I'm sorry for implanting a most unwelcome picture in your head, but I was taking a bath the other evening. The radio was on, I was leafing idly through a magazine and that's when I saw it - the least effective print ad of all time. In fact, it was so ineffective, I was quite impressed. You see, it wasn't just badly designed or poorly conceived, it actually failed to communicate a coherent selling message on so many levels, it was hard to fathom. Especially as I was beginning to get a bit pink and wrinkly.
Anyway, with apologies for the slightly fuzzy iPhone snap, here it is :
Perhaps I pay rather to much attention to ads in magazines, but I do tend to give each one a little review. I suppose 20 years of copywriting makes one slightly odd like that. However, before an ad gets my mini assessment, I always establish what is being advertised and by whom. This ad's incredible weakness first struck me as I realised I couldn't really work out the answers to either question.
There were footballers. Yes, definitely footballers. So maybe it was promoting a match or, more probably, a sports channel on which the match was to appear. On the other hand, there was no obvious broadcaster logo or a start time, so maybe not.
Now, I know next to nothing about football, but even I could tell these players were from Manchester United. What's more, their logo DID appear, albeit in miniature form and at the top left of the page (who places a logo at top left?). Indeed, it was accompanied by another emblem - that of Russian airline Aeroflot. Two clues there then. It was either an ad for Manchester United or Aeroflot. So, seeking clarification, I scanned the rest of the piece.
There was a headline 'To Asia, via Moscow'. And some copy, very small and almost hidden at the foot of the page: 'Fly to over 250 destinations across the globe with convenient connections in Moscow.'
Bingo! It was an ad for Aeroflot.
Unfortunately, this only led to further confusion (and bear in mind 99% of readers would be several pages further into the magazine by now). Why would a journey to Tokyo be best represented by three soccer blokes kicking a ball across the route? And why would my journey to Japan be enhanced by changing planes in the Russian capital, rather than taking one of the four, direct flights a day from Heathrow? And, what does all this have to do with Manchester United? Particularly when the advertisement makes it clear the trip will start in London.
Sorry, I wish I knew - but I still don't have the solution to the paradox. I have a vague notion that some football tournament is due to take place in Moscow soon, but that hardly nails it. This ad wants me in Tokyo, with only the briefest glimpse of a Russian airport en route.
Nope, I thought I could I decipher even the clumsiest of work, but this fella has me stumped. Unless, of course, somebody set out to create the most ineffective press advertisement of all time. In which case, it's a triumph.
Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant