What The Fox? How One Brand’s Gross-Out Ads Misfired

Mostly with System1 Ad Ratings we focus on the best ads in a category, because they’re the ones marketers can learn from. But the worst ads can also teach us something.

This ad, by Mint Mobile, is the lowest-scoring Telco ad in the US this year, a very low 1-Star.

And this ad, also by Mint Mobile, barely improved on that score – it’s another 1-Star.

But there’s a lot to learn from Mint’s two ads. Mint are a pragmatic start-up who were dipping a toe into TV advertising to see what, if any, uplift it gave them. The ads are part of a test-and-learn strategy, in other words.

Watching them, you might think 1-Star scores are harsh. I can sympathise – personally, I like the ads and the approach. They’re taking a risk by invoking disgust as an emotion, which almost no campaigns do, but they’re doing it with focus and a sneaky sense of humour – even though it doesn’t come over for our respondents. The ads have had a decent reception online and high scores from critics, and that’s not a big surprise.

But even if they’re good ads conceptually, they’re not good TV ads. The point of TV advertising long-term is to build your brand via broad reach – making a good emotional impression on people who don’t know or buy you yet. For people casually encountering the Mint ads, the main thing they’ll remember are the finger dipping and carpet humping – triggering a “WTF?” reaction which might work well to activate viewers but doesn’t do much for long-term growth. (Both ads have a high Spike Rating for a 1-Star commercial.)

One of things Mint attempts with these ads is to establish its cartoon fox as a Fluent Device – though all it really does is describe the brand benefits. But that’s its role in Mint’s more recent, short-form commercials which are clearly designed as pre-rolls and digital ads.

Here the Mint Fox works as a brand distinctive asset – driving quick recognition once you’ve seen him a few times. Our recent Fluent Devices work for the IPA proved that using character-based devices across media helps drive up online reach and dwell time.

So you can learn a lot from low-scoring ads – and its commendable for Mint to have taken a bet on TV and tried to make something more imaginative than a lot of campaigns. Even if, this time, it just wasn’t right.

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