Your favourite price comparison website advert is…

Is there such thing as a ‘favourite price-comparison website advert’? It’s a bit like ‘favourite dictator’ or ‘favourite plague-carrying creature’ really isn’t it? The least of several evils or somesuch.

Still, I was curious as to whether it was possible to create something memorable and reasonably enjoyable – or ‘reasonably not irritating’ at least – so I created a poll to find out the UK’s favourite price-comparison adverts, and form what would almost certainly be the most incisive, wide-ranging, in-depth and analytical, er, analysis of the ads ever prepared – ever.

Something that works for the advertiser and doesn’t drive viewers to murderous, visceral hatred. Let’s face it, creating a price-comparison advert that doesn’t drive people to uncontrolled defecation several times a day is a massive win in these stakes.

With the number of votes nearing 100 I decided that the time was right to analyse the results. Well, that and the fact that I was quickly losing interest in the topic.

I had a feeling one would be way out in front, with the other three rooted to the foot of the table (to borrow a phrase used by every sports commentator when discussing Premiership football), with a sprinkling of ‘Fuck you! They all suck!’ responses – which are entirely reasonable under the circumstances – fighting it out with Confused.com and Go Compare.

But while I was correct on the first count – there was a runaway winner with over half of the vote – I was surprised that one of the competitors pushed the leader close for a long time before taking second place with almost one third of the total vote.

What does this tell us? Well, firstly it seems to tell us that people are indeed amused by – and fond of – Aleksandr Orlov, the Russian meerkat perpetually frustrated by idiot internetters mistaking his rodent-prostitution website for a price-comparison website.

For what it’s worth I think the CompareTheMeerkat adverts are by far the best of the bunch, with a clear message and clarity of brand and purpose. And a neat, amusing pun to boot. Well done to agency VCCP for achieving the seemingly impossible.

Runner-up was Omid Djalili’s efforts as Haggle Hero for MoneySupermarket adverts, a bonkers Iranian mithering unlikely celebrities for not trying to get better deals on their insurance.

I found the Nigel Mansell and John Prescott ads pretty good the first couple of times I saw them – the ads settling into a comfortable routine after some initially dubious first efforts – and the fact that Djalili’s arrival heralded the departure of that Peter Jones berk and his series of embarrassing ads raises it even higher in my eyes.

As Germaine Greer reportedly said of the Jones adverts: “I thought being rich meant you didn’t have to suck that kind of cock.” Nice one Germaine.

Third place was taken by Confused.com with its brilliant set of adverts featuring a swivel-eyed bouncing-breasted fruit loop warbling bad karaoke that makes everyone think it’s a dating service.

My thoughts are well-documented, but I will recount a conversation I recently had with someone who works at Confused.com – the gist of which is that everyone at Confused.com is well aware of how awful the ads are apart from the marketing department. Make of that what you will.

Second to the bottom were a series of responses that would normally comprise the ‘Don’t know’ option, but in this case comprised a kind of ‘Fuck you! They’re all shit!’ option. Fair enough.

And in last place – somewhat surprisingly to me – was poor old Gio Compario, the fat tenor, who finds himself in a series of unlikely situations singing operatically about price comparison websites.

Sheer overexposure? Is it time to kill off Gio? Hardly – while it’s possible to read something into the good results for CompareTheMarket.com and MoneySupermarket.com it’s less clear to discern whether people actually dislike the Confused.com or GoCompare.com adverts.

Perhaps they just don’t make as much of an impression; perhaps the adverts are disliked, though that doesn’t say much of their penetration; perhaps people are overfamiliar with them. And perhaps the people who are more inclined to like it are less likely to stumble across this website and vote for all sorts of reasons. They don’t use the computer; they don’t search the web; they didn’t find this website; they don’t search for bad adverts websites; SEO; blindness; mental derangement.

What I’m saying is that this is hardly scientific. Having said that I’m going to pretend it is, because a spot of own-trumpet-blowing never did anyone any harm.

So there you have it. Aleksandr Orlov – aka CompareTheMarket.com/CompareTheMeerkat.com – is the winner. Imagine the CGI meerkat receiving a golden turd mounted on fist with a single, middle, upraised finger. And Djalili getting a silver one. And Cara Confused having her stupid goggle-eyed head cleaved in two by a giant scythe.

And understand that I still hate them all.

“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.