Badvertising: Quiznos (& AdAge)

On February 9, 2004, Bob Garfield, ad critic for Advertising Age, wrote a glowing review called "Dead Vermin Sell Quiznos Sandwiches, And Both Spots Break Through The Clutter As Few Ads Do," in which he raved about Quiznos' "Spongemonkeys" ad campaign. The ads, which can be viewed via this link, show some sort of disgusting animated rodents singing about Quiznos.

On December 3, 2004, Ad Age reported that Quiznos was firing the Martin Agency, the creators of the campaign.

How Garfield could have missed this one is beyond me. In his review he reminded his readers that he had criticized Quiznos' previous campaign, which featured a man sucking on a wolf's teat, as "unappetizing, self-destructive and fundamentally unhinged ... the apotheosis of irrelevance and agency self-indulgence," noting that he was proved right. So how could he think that characters that look like "animated mouse carcasses" (his words) would work any better?

The clue to his mistake is right there in the title of his review. He thought the ads would "break through the clutter." Whenever I hear this term, my advertising-cynicism antennae go up. The idea that the key to great marketing is just to shout at your customers for 30 seconds louder than your competitors are shouting is not an accurate description of how the world works. The key to your customers' love is not to act obnoxious enough that they can't help but pay attention. Customers are way too discerning and scrutinizing for that.

When I hear like terms "break through the clutter" or "capturing eyeballs" I get suspicious. It is hardly ever the answer. For every Aflac duck or "I just saved money on my car insurance by switching to Geico" there are a million—no, make that 100 million—ads that are barely noticed and, more importantly, don't motivate customers to do anything.