How to avoid dead ad trends

If you hadn’t noticed, in the world of advertising, things come and things go. What’s cool today is passé the next. It’s a fickle business with an inherent lemming-like underpinning that almost requires brands to quickly jump on the latest trend lest they be viewed as stodgy and out of touch.

But the problem with this approach to things is twofold. Much like the movie business, in which most sequels never live up to the original, rarely do “advertising sequels” live up to the original and rarely does the much pontificated “next big thing” ever truly come to pass.

In celebration of this hard to shake advertising trait, we’re going to take a look at some of advertising’s trends that wish they could have become more than trends – and how a little collaborative foresight could have avoided both the time wasted willing these trends that never were into fruition and the embarrassment that resulted from choosing to be a copycat.

Real-time marketing

Let’s start with real-time marketing. Since late last year, it’s been lauded as the new way all marketers should market. Armed with up-to-the-minute data on everything imaginable, brands were supposed to react in real time to world events with witty marketing tactics.

The poster child in this space is OREO’s Dunk in the Dark ad which followed the blackout during the Super Bowl. The ad was quickly followed by what seemed every single other big brand in the months that followed and, in particular, during the Academy Awards which turned Twitter into a vomitorium of lame Dunk in the Dark wannabes.

Making matters worse (or better), during Advertising Week in September, Jade Belsky, EVP of 360i, the agency behind OREO’s Dunk in the Dark, said the work was three years in the making and that those three years were needed to “develop a great social foundation, build an engaged community, become more nimble and be ready for a situation of that magnitude.” So much for spontaneity, huh?

But this a good thing. Because while, in some senses this means real-time marketing is just another dead-on-arrival trendlet, it also means that effective real-time marketing requires a great deal of planning and advance collaboration for it to be as effective as OREO’s Dunk in the Dark


Remember the flashmob? Ten years ago, this trend entered culture and for the next five or so years, brands latched on like a litter of starving kittens suckling their mother’s breast as if their lives depended on it. OK, so their lives do depend on that, but you get the point.

Marketer after marketer after marketer unleashed a cavalcade of repetitive silliness hoping to capture the zeitgeist of the trend. Some worked. Most were disasters of epic proportions.

It’s almost as if the advertising industry can only foresee what will happen in the next hour or two. It’s as if some marketers simply can’t envision what things will look like several months or years down the line in terms of which trends will be hot and which will, well, not. They’re too focused on the now.

But, hmm, if only marketers and their agencies collaborated a bit more with one another and partner entities about the ramifications of a particular creative direction, perhaps the one, lone raised hand that asks, “Uh, maybe we should re-think this” would be heard and heeded.

And avoid producing disasters like Hugh Jackman embarrassing himself in this Lipton Iced Tea disaster.


Let’s look at today’s advertising trendlet du jour: prankvertising, also known as stunt marketing. Prankvertising is the art of pulling pranks on unsuspecting consumers mostly for the purposes of filming it in the hopes it goes viral on YouTube.

Some recent examples:

Prankvertising is relatively new and hasn’t had time to tire or, more importantly, had some poor soul caught in one of these stunts turn around and sue the brand for psychological damage. Oh you just wait. That will happen. So maybe you had better connect with your co-workers and clients and collaborate long and hard on whether or not you want to hop on this trendlet and, if you do, how you will craft your prank so you don’t end up in court or, worse, the laughing stock of your fellow ad brethren and wise-ass YouTube commenters.

AMC’s The Walking Dead is cool. We hope you watch it. We do and we love it. But that’s where the dead are supposed to walk. Well, at least for the duration of the series. They are not supposed to walk around the advertising industry as if they were dead ad trends that simply will not die. So sit down with your team, do some productive collaboration and shoot that dead ad trend in the head before it bites you and you end up like Hugh Jackman in some lame Lipton Iced Tea flashmob.

Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, and Marshmallow Fluff.