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Top 5 pop culture campaign misfires of the 21st century | #MediaMonth

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Pop culture and advertising have been walking hand-in-hand with varying degrees of success since ethe 1950s. In the latter half of the 20th century we saw brand and pop culture partnerships like Pepsi and Michael Jackson and Nestle and The Simpsons and we didn’t bat an eyelid. It was a natural pairing of commerce and entertainment that led to some incredibly memorable campaigns.

But while pop culture pairings can be an amazing tool for brands that want to make an impact (nostalgia is a big deal, remember), it doesn’t always work out quite so well. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a brief look back through recent ad land history and pinpoint the pop culture campaigns that simply didn’t work or at very least raised a few confused eyebrows.

Top Cat x Halifax

When you think of UK retail banking, naturally you think of a snarky cartoon cat from the 1960s, right? Apparently somebody thought it was a good idea. The setup is bamboozling: Top Cat is in need of a new home, so goes on the beg for a mortgage. His technique of throwing a bunch of current account pamphlets on the floor and doing an X Factor-style sob story works on the alarmingly simple Halifax loans approver, and so he upgrades, investing in a slightly larger bin. It’s all very subtly charming but it also never really made a lot of sense even back then in 2016.

Kevin Bacon x EE

The whole “six degrees of separation” thing went a little too far when EE decided to hire Kevin Bacon to spread the word about its service and its ties with Apple Music. Of all the risible ads spawned by the campaign, however, the painfully awkward spot (also from 2016) featuring Britney Spears and a (shudder) wardrobe malfunction was perhaps the most unsalvageable. In an awkward meet up Bacon is revealed to be wearing a tight red plastic jump suit as he dances to one of Spears’ more popular numbers. To get her full value from the advert a somewhat bemused looking Britney encourages him to listen to a more recent “hit.” Nobody laughed.

Direct Line x Everything under the sun

From Winston Wolf (of Pulp Fiction fame) to RoboCop, the Transformer and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Direct Line has been all aboard the nostalgia train for a while now. Unfortunately, it never seemed like a natural fit for me. Of all the spots, the Winston Wolf ones seemed to land the most naturally but it always felt like Direct Line were trying too hard here to strike that nostalgia bone.

Katy Perry x Just Eat

Snoop Dogg worked. His laidback “I genuinely couldn’t give a toss what you think of this” atmosphere made the whole thing feel like a parody of a campaign collapsing in on itself. Katy Perry though, as bubbly and lovely as she undoubtedly is, just can’t save this trainwreck. It’s an obnoxious and nauseating thing that I’ve spent the best part of the last two years trying to avoid.

Kendall Jenner x Pepsi

OK. Last but not least. I’ve already written at length about this one from 2017 so let’s not do our nightmares any favours and relive this abject horror any longer than we have to, right? And I’m definitely not posting it here.

The ones that got it right

Of course, for all the ones that got it wrong (see above) there are many more that got it right. It might be an easy fix to slap some nostalgia on a campaign and call it a day but it’s always going to be something of a gamble as those licensing rights don’t come cheap.

So as tempting as it might be to throw shade at the five campaigns above, don’t forget the great ones too. In fact, let’s end today’s rant with a peak at perhaps my favourite ad of the last five years.

Header image by Nicky Barkla


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