Do only ‘Crazy People’ advertise with honesty?

In the wake of the recent ‘Refreshing stuff’ marketing campaign, courtesy of Coca-Cola owned brand, Oasis, we had to ask ourselves:

Why isn’t there more honest advertising?

The Oasis campaign, focused on honesty. Alarming and brutal honesty. The campaign was launched on billboards, video and social media, and our personal favourite instalment so far, is this;

This is a prime example of an alarmingly honest advert

It’s funny. It’s honest. It has balls.

It follows the time honoured literary technique of the power of three – a technique which suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more effective, more satisfying and thus more memorable than other numbers – and is refreshingly honest to boot. Every aspect of this ad is made to be amusing and memorable. And it works.

Oasis’ senior brand manager, Natalie Whitehead-Farr, said: “The 2015 campaign uses animation to illustrate some of the absurd and funny truths in the everyday life of teens.”

“Each piece of content pokes a bit of fun at a modern trend and delivers an Oasis perspective – whether that be on outdoor advertising, gym selfies, reality TV or slow-motion product demos.”

“We think this humorous approach will really resonate with Oasis consumers of all ages.”

So, why isn’t the impact of honest advertising more widely recognised and utilised?

We think it’s because honest advertising takes balls!

Balls that not all marketing agencies and brands have.

However, for your delectation, we thought we’d put together some examples of our favourite examples of honest advertising. For two reasons; to show you how well it works, and to give you a good chuckle along the way.

They’re boxy, but they’re good!

First up, is a Volvo advertising strategy that isn’t even real, but definitely should be, and isn’t too far removed from their actual advertising strategy anyway.

The 1990 film, Crazy People, starring Dudley Moore, parodied the advertising industry (and is one of our MD’s favourite films) and used the slogan:

‘Buy Volvos. They’re boxy, but they’re good’.

Volvos honest advertising in Crazy People

The funny thing about this parody Volvo advert is twofold; first of all, Volvo themselves loved it, as it played to their own policy of advertising their safety features and performance over their (admittedly not great at the time) looks. And secondly, it wasn’t too far removed from Volvo’s real advertising strategy anyway.

Real Volvo adverts are renowned for their honesty

To this day, Volvo remain at the forefront of the small number of companies with the balls to advertise honestly, letting their products speak for themselves and focussing on their perceived shortcomings, rather than trying to cover them up.

Very honest advert from Volvo modern Volvo advert

Know your enemy

Pizza-hut used an excellent advert in Australia (Kraft did ask them to take it down, as they reportedly hadn’t received permission to use the Vegemite name) to advertise their Vegemite (Aussie Marmite) stuffed-crust pizza, released especially for Australia Day.

As with Marmite’s ‘love it or hate it’ slogan, Vegemite uses a similar tactic, boasting that it is ‘made in Australia. By Australians. For Australians.’

The Pizza-hut advert played on this by focusing its attention on the adverse reactions of non-Aussies that tried the pizza.

How does transparent banking sound?

Move over, Howard. One can only assume that Halifax are trying to be honest and appealing with their series of adverts that began with Howard. For me, they are just a little irritating.

This bank however, has got balls. I mean: Serious. Balls.

Nordnet of Norway produced this advert which parodies generic banking adverts with a refreshing dose of honesty and not a little irony. Particularly in light of the financial crisis, it’s rather endearing to see a bank mocking its own industry like this, and in doing so, engenders trust in the brand.

What is a list of brutal honesty without a guest appearance from Ricky (the creator of Offal Jim-Jam) Gervais?

Again, an entry from an Aussie company, Optus, asked Ricky Gervais to shoot an ad to help them advertise their deal with Netflix.

He was right. They used it.

Last, but by no means least

Amsterdam based, Hans Brinker Hotel, is – how does one put this politely? – by all accounts, even that of its own advertising strategy, a bit of a dump.

When they added more beds and hiked their prices, they employed the agency Kessels Kramer to help them to market themselves.

The results were astounding.

Hans Brinker Hotel Advertising


More honesty from the Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam. Alarmingly honest advertising.


Even more astounding, was the fact that the campaign worked!

By focusing on their worst points and putting the spotlight on them they achieved two things:

First of all, they instantly scared off potential customers who would be offended by the hostel, and secondly, they managed to attract their ideal target demographic – young potheads who are unlikely to care about their surroundings as long as it’s cheap.

A quick Google of their Trip Advisor ratings shows that they’re doing something right.

Trip adviser reviews of the honest advertising Hans Brinker Hotel


So as you’ll see, one of the strange, contradictory rules of the world of marketing is as follows;

Traditionally, marketing focuses on the positives and can have a tendency to try to cover over any negativity or weaknesses.  Marketing that is honest about these things shocks and amuses people. And in doing so, can often be better for endearing a brand to its consumers than marketing that tries to focus only on the positives.

By using such brutal honesty in your marketing you signal confidence by highlighting your shortcomings. This builds trust in your brand as well, if you focus on downfalls, when you tell someone that something is good, they’re likely to believe you.

Also, with a strategy like this, you achieve the complete alienation of those prospects who were less likely to buy from you anyway. You know; the ones who even if they did buy, would likely find something wrong with your product or service. The ones you don’t really want.

But in return, you gain a whole load of prospects who already know about your shortfalls, and don’t care about them.

By Toby Walker