The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective B2B Ads

There’s a school of thought which says that B2B ads have little or nothing in common with B2C ads. We don’t believe that’s true. Business buyers and consumers use the same brains to make decisions, even if the occasions are different. The heuristics which drive consumer decision-making – Fame, Feeling and Fluency — will still be vital for building business brands.

So it’s worth looking more closely at B2B advertising. Later this year, we’ll be unveiling work that takes a large scale look at B2B ad effectiveness and explores the factors which separate a good business ad from a great one.

It’s also possible to learn from the ads which aren’t so good. As a preview of our upcoming B2B effectiveness work, here are seven 1-Star B2B ads we found in the System1 Ad Ratings Database, and the mistakes they make.

SHOP TALK: BDO USA – “Into Latin America”

If you’ve ever been sat next to business people talking business on the bus or subway, you’ll know there are few conversations more tedious than a business conversation you’re not directly involved in. So showing actual business conversations is, in general, a bad idea for ads. Even if you film them in pretty locations, the “so what?” factor is going to be very high.

BORING LOCATIONS: CDW – “CDW Activates A Productivity On-The-Go Solution”

It’s also often a bad idea to film your commercial in an office. Offices aren’t fun places, or else we’d go to them without having to be paid. There’s the germ of a creative idea here stifled by the extremely drab staging.


So it’s not a great idea to feature actual business conversations, or actual business locations. What about actual business people? If you’re lucky enough to have a charismatic CEO, go ahead and use them. If not, then your ad might feel authentic, but it might also look cheap and awkwardly performed. A bit like this one.


SAP’s ad is obviously a cut above the previous ones in its production values. Multiple locations, a professional actor, a strong narrative… there’s even a joke! (Kind of). The problem here, though, is the kind of emotions the ad provokes. It’s a very common tactic for ads to elicit negative emotion and then resolve it positively, and this is what the SAP ad looks to do. The thing is, while the negative issues raised are tangible, from failing infrastructure to boardroom bias, the solution is a hand-wavey “business will sort it out”. Not convinced? Nor were viewers, who gave it 1-Star.

SOB STORIES: LINCOLN – “Who Are You Responsible For?”

Lincoln Insurance also gets lots of things right – it turns a single business into a compelling story. It’s also, unfortunately, a sad story, of a family getting by after one of them dies. Now, you might say, this is just the kind of problem that insurance companies solve. You’d be right, but that’s true of B2C insurers too, and there’s a reason they use comedy, Fluent Devices like the gecko, and larger-than-life storytelling to dramatize their offers. Unresolved negative emotion is a big problem for any ad, B2B or not.


Another ad with high production values that ends up at 1-Star. The problem here is the script: a series of barely-connected platitudes which makes the video feel more like an inspirational quote than an ad. Are viewers inspired? No, they’re contemptuous. The kind of folksy wisdom that might feel good from a friend feels unwanted from a bank.


Finally, a UK ad which epitomises a lot of 1-Star B2B ads. It’s all product claims, no feeling. No space to breathe, either – just thirty seconds of in-your face messaging and facts. The brand most likely felt they got what they wanted: the problem is it treats the audience like idiots, and the in-your-face style just stops people recalling and digesting any of the substance. Seduction, not persuasion, is the name of the game, in business as in any other type of advertising.

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