Why this ugly ad is really effective.


- Hisham Wyne

It's not a looker by any means. It's not creative. But sometimes, that's a good thing. Here's why this ugly ad works from a content perspective, and what we can learn from it.

Bayz Danube ad

Certainly not the prettiest. The red and yellow are locked in a bitter custody battle. The renderings at the back are generic as heck. Branding and design friends can’t stand this ad. It makes their gag reflex do a funny shimmy. But here’s the thing: I really like it from a content perspective. Why? Because it gets the job done.

We’ll get into it. But first:

But first, ads that don’t work

Here’s some context: Dubai is full of badly executed ads. Some of them are downright backlash-inducing. Take this gem for example.

Others are just a bit confusing. On the Sheikh Zayed Road (Dubai’s main highway), there’s a full bridge banner that says “Time is running. Invest it.” Yup – never quite got it either.

Is it an ad for health services? A bank? A pension scheme? How exactly does one invest running time? By learning a new language?

And you know, sometimes strange ads happen because clients are asking agencies to be creative. And pointless creativity is just that – pointless.

du ad- bad copy

Look at this creative picture (above). It’s beautiful. It’s a man standing in the rain. He’s exalting in life. But it’s for a telecoms company. Telcos can’t make it rain. But heck, it’s creative. Don’t know what it’s doing, though. More importantly, I’ve no idea what I’m supposed to be doing in response to seeing this. There’s no call to action – of any sort. Or a message that needs to be actioned.

Akoya Damac ad

And then look at this. At first glance, you wouldn’t have a clue what it’s about. And frankly, the message is a bit creepy. That’s a Bill Cosby sort of ad. And why is that lady wearing grass? What happened to all the textile looms in the world?

Mercedes A-class ad

In Arabic, the alphabet starts with an Alif. And the universe started with a big bang. Numbers don’t have a start at all. And how does the alphabet make me want to buy a car anyway? And if A’s just the start, shouldn’t I wait for better things to come along with B and C?

But back to the ad.

Right then. Back to why that original, charmingly ugly ad works for me.

It’s from Danube, a brand that’s recently gone into real estate development. Actually, it’s from a real estate agent, but uses the approved Danube layout. And it touts a new project – Bayz Danube –  in Dubai’s Business Bay freezone.

I’ve annotated it for easy reference.

Danube Bayz ad annotated Hisham Wyne copywriter

Let’s dive right in.

A. = Immediately gets me comparing the monthly outlay to what I’m paying in rent. If the two align, or A. is cheaper, I immediately start thinking this is a good investment and affordable. Of course, it isn’t that straightforward: the instalment is obviously for the smallest unit available and you mightn’t want to move into it yourself. Still, putting the money right up there gets you thinking straightaway.

B. = Okay, not the strongest figure. Percentages aren’t as good as absolutes – what does 1% mean? If I don’t know the total value of the unit, I don’t know what I’m paying. Still, 1% seems intuitively low.

Right under B. = Completion date. It tells me that the project isn’t a pipedream. There’s an end in sight, when I’ll have my property. And it’s not too far away.

C. = If you omit the “shirt drive” typo in the text, it does a good job of justifying why this is a good investment. If you want to live there, these factors will improve quality of life. If you’re an investor, there’s a better chance of strong capital gains.

D. = And really simple. A call to action.

Now, full disclosure. This obviously isn’t a billboard, so I’m not comparing like to like. There’s obviously more space to get into detail. But this ad does exist in simplified form as a billboard containing just A., B., and a shorter D., with the same rendering behind the text. I see it from my balcony, glowing neon every night – but it’s awkward getting a clear shot.

So what’s the bottom line? When it comes to tactical ads, creativity just gets strange when not done right. It impedes and obfuscates rather than getting people interested. From a copywriting perspective, simplicity  in billboard text is the best thing you can do.

First, catch the eye. Then, get people thinking and desiring. And finally, give them an easy way to follow up and act on their desire. Not rocket science, but this powerful old formula often gets lost in the clutter of "creativity".