“You’re writing about their adverts! It’s what they want!”

confused.com advert caraThis is something that turns up quite frequently in reader comments. It implies that because I’m writing about how awful ad advert is, this is somehow a win for the advertiser.

This is, if you think about it, a silly thing to say and a kissing cousin to that old chestnut about bad publicity. Try telling Toyota that there’s no such thing as bad publicity following its ‘stuck accelerator’ trials of last year; or Domino’s that there’s no such thing as bad publicity after footage of employees putting snot on food hit the web; or Amazon that there’s no such thing as bad publicity for delisting gay and lesbian books on its site; or Apple that there’s no such thing as bad publicity for a homphobic app available on the iPhone.

It is a silly claim. A-ha, I can hear you say, they weren’t adverts though. I don’t really think that’s the point, but I’ll address that one as well. For obvious reasons it’s hard to find any hard and fast evidence that advertising negatively impacts on a brand – because only that brand and the people who handle their advertising are likely to have access to it. Don’t expect to see any ‘advertising fails to sell stuff’ papers anytime soon.

However, Yahoo! well and truly shot themselves in the foot with their badly-received Yahoo! – It’s You adverts that saw Yahoo! brand recognition go down quicker than a leaden sexual metaphor.

A-ha, you say, the likes of Confused.com and Go Compare and Halifax are deliberately courting bad publicity to etch their brand names on the brains of viewers like grease on a carpet. To some extent this is true and there are a couple of great examples of this on the telly at the moment. The Meerkat and Gio, to my mind.

Subconscious familiarity of a brand is, on balance, probably better than unfamiliarity, especially where these companies – whose offerings are largely indistinguishable – are concerned. But when that perception is overwhelmingly negative, because it’s so stupendously, deliberately, irritating, then it’s a different matter.

Adopting a similar ‘memorable through irritation’ approach but failing are, to my mind, the Halifax ads with their cast of radio-bank-wanker characters; and Confused.com with its frightening, bizarre, muddled Cara Confused thing that looks like a crazy tramp who hears voices telling it to set fire to houses and has a magical vagina.

The agency that had the account for Halifax has just been relieved of it; this suggests to me that the bank-as-radio-station series of ads were not deemed a success.

On the Confused.com score I have no evidence. Simply a belief that – as the latest in a long line of bizarre adverts with no overall aim apparent – the Caraoke adverts are flailing around desperately in search of a reason to exist. Thousands of readers on this site think Confused.com has launched a dating site – how can confusing your customers possibly be good for your brand? And how can it good for your brand if you constantly read or hear people loudly, violently decrying it?

Oh, there are stats. Stats about how people wouldn’t buy from a brand if they didn’t like their spokesman, or about how one third of people wouldn’t deal with a brand if they featured an ad that was distasteful. But it’s a matter of common sense in the end.

Some ads don’t work. We know this because agencies get fired all the time. Why would you fire an agency if your ads were hunky-dory and sales were up as a result?

Some ads don’t work in terms of ROI. Sure, sales and awareness might go up if you carpet-bomb TV viewers with your latest appalling meme, spunking cash all over the web and TV and radio. But will they go up in relation to the cash you’re spending? There’s a stat floating about on the web that says that only 18 per cent of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive return on investment. Less than one in five. That’s not a great strike rate.

Some ads are just shit. There are lots of them on this site. Are they a success simply because I’m writing about them? No. Do they offer the advertiser a return on their investment? There’s no way we’ll ever know. Do people largely hate their adverts and by extension, arguably, their brand? Probably.

People talk about the Halifax adverts. They talk about how shit they are. And the agency that created that campaign is on the way out of the door.

People seem actively angry about Go Compare and Confused.com, but while Gio seems to be quite a marmite character, people seem annoyed and bemused by Cara Confused.

Is there anything worse than being publicly disparaged? Perhaps not being talked about at all, but advertising goes both ways – it can’t possibly all be good. If people think your brand is annoying, stupid and confusing the chances are they might simply avoid it. Which is why Confused.com keeps changing its advertising – and why it will probably change it again.

It might sometimes pay to be be annoying.com – it doesn’t pay to be confusing.com.

Gio, Cara, Hagglehero, Aleksandr: Vote for your favourite price comparison site advert

As we’ve already discovered, people think that Confused.com is now some sort of dating site thanks to its latest weird-ass ads featuring a swivel-eyed mentalist thrashing around on the screen.

After the swivel-eyed loonie warbled and wailed its way through Somebody To Love and Chain Reaction, making everybody believe that the price-comparison outfit had ventured into some sort of lonely hearts website for crazy cult members, there’s now an advert out trying to reiterate the point that it’s actually a website about comparing insurance quotes – something about ten billion miles away from a strange karaoke with a load of weird squiggles bouncing their tits around.

Too little too late? However annoying the meerkat, Go Compare and Moneysupermarket ads are, there’s an undoubted clarity of purpose to them. The new Gio-in-space and John Prescott Money Supermarket ads suggest that these memes have a lot further to run, so I thought I’d do a poll to see which are peoples’ favourites of the price comparison ad wars.

Vote for your favourite at the bottom. Before you get there, here’s a reminder.

Cara Confused thing

• See more Confused.com adverts

Meerkat thing

• See more ComparetheMarket adverts

Omid Djalili thing

• See more Moneysupermarket adverts

Fat tenor thing

• See more Go Compare adverts

Vote now!