The Worst Adverts Of 2014

Is it that time again? It scarcely seems five minutes since I was last wading through the dreck of another year’s worst adverts. Already it’s time to list the worst adverts of 2014. So, what’s changed over the last year?

For me there have been two noticeable trends. Firstly we’re seeing the bar being lowered ever further, as TV advertising becomes more affordable to smaller businesses. This has inevitably resulted in adverts that are truly abysmal, usually relying on a cover of a popular song with the brand name sung over the top of it – or merely inept, ill-conceived adverts acted badly and boasting some of the worst production values since Eldorado was last on television.

Secondly, we’ve seen something of a decline in the mind-drilling, dog-whistling exercises in simply being memorable – at least by the likes of gambling and price-comparison companies: Go Compare has retired Welsh tenor Gio Compario; Confused.com has ditched its hapless and rather pitiful in-house Cara Confused nonsense; Paddy Power seems to have reined in its openly dog-whistling adverts; Ladbrokes seems to have distanced itself from its Lad Banter idiom of the last few years. Once again, it’s reasonably safe to switch over to the commercial channels without hovering over the Mute button.

We’ve also seen the complete disappearance of my long-time bete noir, Wonga.com, which has retreated from television advertising like a celebrity tit-feeler seeking asylum in a home-counties pile, ensconced behind big iron gates and stewing in resentment at being caught out.

Worst adverts of 2014

All of which might leave material thin on the ground, you might think. Not a bit of it. 2014 has given us bad adverts in a range of colours and textures. Some are inept, some badly misjudged, some insulting, some tired, some simply annoying – others are actively offensive.

Getting angry at the television is among life’s most futile pursuits. But there’s so much to get angry about, whether it’s impotent fury at an annoying jingle, distaste at using war to shift stock or the terrible sense of doom one gets when watching people fight over discounted tablets.

The turbo capitalism that now dictates how we live forces us to reassess the role of marketing and advertising in encouraging us to spend, consume and fundamentally to live beyond our means. And the way we consume and the way we live is, if you dwell on it for any amount of time, terrifying. Whether adverts are a cause, a symptom or somewhere in-between is up for debate, but in such a world it so often feels as if going mad is the only way of staying sane.

• NB. Should you wish to do something less hateful than buying a box-set of DVDs for a secret Santa, why not make a charitable donation instead, like John Lewis didn’t


The Worst Adverts Of 2014

Sainsbury’s

A horrible appropriation of death, mayhem and suffering in search of increased market share.

I’m still waiting for someone to explain why using 9/11 as a backdrop to an advert would be worse than this. Why? Because it wouldn’t.

Co-Op

So earnest it makes Black Narcissus look like Hollyoaks, starring a man who appears to be a South African Bond villain.

Bullets. Ink. What? Inexplicable.

Wilkinson Sword

Not annoying, not offensive, not even particularly bad. Just puzzling. How does depilation make you more successful, carefree, stressless – fundamentally more complete as a human being? Answer it doesn’t. But Wilkinson Sword is keen to have you believe it does. Just as everyone who works in advertising seems to be keen that we all see the Redknapp clan on our commercial breaks as often as is feasible.

I have a theory that Harry Redknapp isn’t Jamie’s Dad; he’s a Dorian-esque attic portrait who’s gone rogue and developed a life of his own. It’s the only possible explanation, when you think about it. As for Louise, a robot I should imagine. A man who’s done a deal with the devil, his animated, droopy alter ego and his robot wife. I digress, but that’s literally what the Redknapps are.

Compare The Market

A lesson in how even the most imaginative, engaging and amusing campaign can become an exercise in diminished returns. These days the meerkat adverts – now numbering over 40 – appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season. If only they could all get bitten by cobras. Yes, even Baby Oleg.

Gladstone Brookes

If ever an advert came close to bullying it’s this egregious and ubiquitous effort from modern-day ambulance-chasers Gladstone Brookes. It’s not simply the insistence, it’s the way it actively berates you. Like a child demanding you buy it a tillside Wispa – and looking you in the eye and telling you you’re a failure as a parent.

Well fuck you, Gladstone Brookes, from every last person in the country.

Apple

The thing is, I can understand this and, in a way, I applaud this effort by Apple, which normally sticks to being as insufferably smug as possible. I like adverts that mash up a load of unlikely sources, dig out some obscure stuff from the archives and create something new and brilliant. Hell, my favourite advert ever – one of my favourite things ever – does exactly this.

Volkswagen’s Night Driving advert from a few years ago combines Richard Burton’s growling narration of Under Milk Wood, adds Cliff Martinez’s ethereal soundtrack from Soderbergh’s Solaris and lays them over some beautiful visuals. It’s almost enough to make me interested in a Volkswagen Golf.

In the same way that curation isn’t simply hanging a load of pictures on a wall, creating something new out of old ingredients is a serious skill. And it nearly works here – it really does. That song is intriguing and unforgettable and kinda glorious. But, at the last minute, it splits like a sauce; separates like oil and water.

Close, but no cigar. And after a few viewings the Chicken Fat advert simply became aggravating. Such a fine line between startling success and ignoble failure. Sadly, after a fortnight of seeing this ad the only running I was doing was out of the room whenever I heard the opening bars. Truth be told I probably creaked slowly to my feet, exhaled for a few seconds then hobbled towards the door at 1mph, but you get the picture.

Andrex Ariel Free

This repeated attempt by Andrex to make us buy their ridiculous wet wipes has already seen Dawn Porter basically harrassing members of the public in their workplace shitters – now it’s time for Ariel Free to make actors talk about faeces while eating chocolate cake in a cafe. In the meantime, something interesting has happened.

Suddenly I’ve noticed a carpet-bombing campaign by the private companies who run our water utilities pleading with us not to flush Andrex’s ‘flushable’ wet wipes down the toilets as they, er, collapse sewers. So, ironically, these Andrex Washlets adverts aren’t just really shit, they’re actively responsible for human waste bubbling up through the drains, across your garden and in through your back door. Thanks Andrex.

Hotels4U

An advert so purely infuriating it genuinely made me fear for the safety of the actors involved. This seemed to be on televisions constantly – and then not at all. Probably for the best – as I noted at the time no-one wanted to see they guy in this ad thrashed to within an inch of his life while some yobs yelled “Anything for you, cupcake!” at him in a Brummie accent, all the time raining down blows of ad-inspired fury.

Hive

Hive represents a growing trend in adverts over the last year or so – the fey, affected ‘look-at-me-I’m-normal’ style of ad narration that wants to be your best friend. The thing is, I can scarcely think of anything more annoying than this try-hard form of delivery with its kooky, faux-naturalistic lyrics that try to make us believe that controlling your heating via mobile phone app is a paradigm shift.

The only way I can get through this ad is by imagining each verse ending with an agonised “Owwwwwwwww!” as someone kicks the gas-loving songsmith in the nuts.

Sky Sports

I don’t know how to say this, but… football doesn’t matter. It actually doesn’t matter at all. It’s not important. And if you think it is you’ve basically been brainwashed.

Carpets are more important than football. Woodlice are more important than football. Black holes are more important that football. Cochineal is more important than football. Suplhur is more important than football. The A19 is more important that football. Gamma waves are more important that football. K9, the robot dog from Doctor Who, is more important than football. Holly Willoughby is more important than football. Cheese is more important than football. Ealing comedies are more important than football. Eating with your mouth closed is more important than football. Cosmology is more important that football. Lollipops are more important than football. Narwhals are important than football.

Football doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.

Cheese strings

This is the only way I want to see this cheddary twat portrayed on my tellybox from now on.

Cuprinol

I hate beards. I’ve worn a beard – on and off – since I was about 19, in strict defiance of prevailing trends and the express desires of Wilkinson Sword. It’s not really a statement of any sort, more of an unwillingness to drag sharp metal across my face every day, or have a shaver nip hairs out of my unprotected neck every 24 hours. But I’m seriously considering shaving off my beard. Why? Because of twats like the Cuprinol man.

We’re at peak beard. Beards are being culturally appropriated by idiots – this miniaturised, airborn paintophilic being a case in point. Whenever a big-bootied Jamaican dancehall queen looks at Miley Cyrus, I bet she feels like this.

I liked it better when beards were a sign that you were, unashamedly, A Man. Either that or a signal that you Couldn’t Be Arsed. No grooming, no beard oil, no stupid moustaches or silly hats in wanky bars. Just a load of hair on your face. Not a sign that you thought Ed Fucking Sheeran was the last word in cool music.

Shoot this face-hair traitor out of the sky already.

Wonga

I honestly feel as if I beat Wonga. I feel like I drove them into the sea with the power of my rhetoric and it was as if everyone suddenly realised I was right along – even Wonga – and I was (metaphorically) paraded through the streets on the shoulders of the Financial Conduct Authority while Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert gave me a massage and Matt Alright from Rogue Traders gave me a thumbs-up.

I beat Wonga. It was all me. Like Christ twatting the money lenders. Like Moriarty going over the Reichenbach Falls. I was right all along and now it’s all down to me that Wonga has been comprehensively fucked up.

I BEAT WONGA.


• Want more? Read the lists from previous years…

Worst adverts of 2013

Worst adverts of 2012

Worst adverts of 2011

Worst adverts of 2010

Worst adverts of 2009

Best And Worst Christmas Adverts 2014

John-Lewis-monty the penguin

So, here we are again. It’s still six weeks before Christmas Day, but the phony war starts earlier and earlier every year now. Christmas provides a unique and irresistible opportunity for brands to give themselves a boost going into the next year – a little bit like striking the first metaphorical blow at the press conference that precedes a bout of boxing, or invading Belgium.

In light of the collapse of Western civilisation that the Big Four supermarkets losing market share apparently constitutes, brand equity and brand power is ever-more important as our beloved high-street (not to mention out-of-town industrial estate) goes through a fundamental structural correction. Communicating what makes you different, better or cheaper than your rivals – and getting people to buy into that idea – is where it’s at these days and television adverts are the primary weapon.

The money that buys prime advertising space – charged at up to £250,000 per advert for the best slots in the week or so before the big day – could probably fund a medium-sized African dictator for a year, so high are the stakes.

We live in the age of the multi-platform campaign so the power of the hashtag – not to mention multi-million quid cinematic featurettes – have been deployed this year amid a massive social media push to engage the yoof with ahh! and LOL! and WTF! moments: a penguin in love; fairies delivering bribes to Twitter users; a global war in which 20 million people died…

2014’s Christmas adverts are the opening salvos in a new campaign – the campaign to see who lays the most convincing claim for the ground they want to inhabit for the next few years. Fittingly – but also tastelessly – many newspapers and blogs describe this as a battle of the Christmas adverts. Fittingly because it undoubtedly it is a battle, possibly for survival for some players; tastelessly because this year Sainsbury’s has decided that it will use trench warfare as its setting for its Christmas advert.

It’s a little bit like bringing a live grenade to a custard pie fight – poor old Monty the Penguin looks a bit stupid when you line him up next to the hot young cast of the Sainsbury’s advert, whose real-life counterparts – unlike Monty, Jools Holland or Ant & Dec – were largely mown down by machine-gun fire once the cameras stopped rolling.

Similarly, everyone else is rather left in the wake of the Sainsbury’s advert, like rubber ducks in a bath bombed by the Enola Gay. As a result of Sainsbury’s fearless approach to adopting mass killing as a backdrop to a Christmas advert, I look forward to the supermarkets employing the Cambodian genocide, Balkan conflict, Al Qaeda terrorist atrocities and the Aberfan disaster in their adverts over the next year.

No doubt the likes of Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, would say call this strategy ‘risky’ – but on the whole I can only assume he’d approve. In these days, when the only arbiter as to what is considered an appropriate advert is how well it plays on social media, when acceptance on Twitter is the only validation required, it’s the logical – the only – conclusion.

I saw the Sainsbury’s advert breathlessly referred to as The Advert To End All Adverts, which would be quite witty, if not for its fundamental cuntishness. And it makes me wonder – if they think this is OK, what else is around the corner?

So, Merry Christmas. In the event that you aren’t blown apart by a stray advert or simply shell-shocked at the horror of it all, do let me know which is your favourite below.

Christmas Adverts 2014

Aldi

Aldi’s first real misstep when it comes to advertising. The German brand has made a success of its brand proposition and physical offering by explicitly not doing what the Big Four have done since the year dot. Until now, where they sign up to the ‘me too’ brand of supermarket Christmas advert with a battleship’s weight worth of food and a crap celeb (Jools Sodding Holland). There’s the Gin Granny from a very early ad, when Aldi ads were still excellent, but fundamentally this is as forgettable as every other Xmas ad out there. Truly, Aldi has arrived.

Rating: 2/5

Argos

Who associates hip-hop with Christmas? This chilly, charmless and actively aggravating spot for Argos does at least have the distinction of ditching the unloved Bill Nighy and Caroline Quentin-voiced sperms. A fundamentally horrible advert all told, though.

Rating: 1/5

Asda

There’s always something a bit no-nonsense about Asda’s advertising, which rather suits the brand. Here’s an advert that basically says ‘if we’re shelling out a million quid then we’re damn well going to actually advertise stuff’. A little like an Asda shop then: a necessity that you’re glad is over the second it is.

Rating: 2/5

Boots

Can’t argue with this one and as members of my close family frequently find themselves working on Christmas Day – meaning that the extended fam has often celebrated on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day to facilitate the best possible experience for them – I can relate. A nice ad, well intentioned and well made.

Rating: 4/5

Debenhams

Frankly Debenhams only enters my consciousness once a year when I’m compiling these lists, but it is the season of good cheer so they’re making an appearance. Verdict: inoffensive.

Rating: 3/5

Iceland

Call it a concession, an admission of defeat or even a cry for help. Perhaps it’s just recognition of what and where Iceland is. Profoundly not aspirational, not middle-class, not classy. Oh, what’s that speeding away into the distance? It’s Aldi and Lidl. Cheap, cheesy – Magaluf in supermarket form.

Rating: 1/5

John Lewis

As exciting, predictable and emotional as a Stephen Hendry tournament win in the mid-1990s. A triumph of efficiency – and that’s all.

Rating: 2.5/5

Lidl

An extension of the Lidl Differences series of ads that have been running, where poshos are surprised to find the lovely nosh they’ve been hoying down their gobs is from that downmarket place near the estate. Minus points for the almost-subliminal smattering of words like ‘value’ throughout, which reminded me of this.

Rating: 2/5

Littlewoods

Myleene Klass and Christopher Biggins as brand ambassadors. Crikey – what statement is being made there?. At face value there’s nothing particularly wrong with this; look closer and Myleene is busy turning beautiful, original, interesting wares at what looks like a Persian bazar into the sort of cheap and tacky shit with which you’d associate Littlewoods. Which isn’t a great message, really.

Rating: 2/5

Marks and Spencer

An expensive checklist of Christmas advert staples rendered as efficiently and lovelessly as a wall in a Barratt Home is plastered.

Rating: 2/5

Morrisons

Utterly forgettable which, given that Morrisons is by far the least visible of the Big Four, is something of a problem. Just like their stores, I don’t know what’s supposed to set them apart. And if you employ the original cheeky chappies of television in Ant and Dec, why isn’t your ad a little irreverent, like it was last year?

Rating: 2/5

Sainsbury’s

A beautiful slice of exploitative, offensive supermarket propaganda.

Rating: N/A

Tesco

Tesco has never done Christmas ads well – coming as it does in the midst of the supermarket’s biggest crisis in decades it just serves to enhance the suspicion that it’s lost sight of what it is, what its strengths are and what the core message is.

Rating: 1/5

Waitrose

Waitrose generally bucks the trend and this sets it apart from the rest of the pack nicely. Giving, showing resolve, employee stakeholding – there’s a message I can get behind at this time of year. Truly abysmal soundtrack, like, but you can’t have everything.

Rating: 4/5


• Refresh your memories of the best and worst Christmas adverts – sob pitifully at advertising or enrage yourself to vein-throbbing standards – of previous years

Best and Worst Xmas Ads of 2013

Best and Worst Xmas Ads of 2012

Best and Worst Xmas Ads of 2011