It starts with a close up of Jean Claude Van Damme’s face. His eyes are closed. Enya’s Only Time plays gently in the background. He’s been through a lot, he tells us, highs and lows and bumpy roads. His eyes open slowly. He’s been tested, he’s been crafted to perfection, and this will, he says, allow him to master the most epic of splits. The camera zooms out. Van Damme stands, arms crossed, perched on the rear-view mirrors of two 18-wheeler Volvo trucks driving backwards, side-by-side down an abandoned desert road. We struggle to figure out what exactly is happening, but it only gets weirder.
The trucks smoothly pull away from each other and Van Damme descends into his signature splits, feet still secure on the mirrors, arms still crossed, Enya crooning all the while. The camera zooms out even more and drifts off to an angle, and we watch as the two trucks, Van Damme still suspended full-split between them, drive off into the desert sunset. A caption fades onto the screen. The video, it reads, was created to demonstrate the stability and precision of Volvo’s Dynamic Steering system. All together, the video just described makes almost no sense. And that’s precisely the point.
There are mountains of research, both market and academic, that go into dissecting why we buy things and how to make us buy more. Traditionally, marketing companies have supported the ‘match-up hypothesis’ when choosing a celebrity to represent their brand.
This theory states that the traits of the endorser (or at least those ascribed to them by the public) and the product they endorse should be similar for maximum advertising effect. So, you get the prettiest girl to sell your makeup, you get the handsomest man to sell your cologne. And evidence does show that for many products, a good pairing can be quite persuasive. In recent years, however, thinking has shifted.
New research has shown that, as much as a congruent pairing can encourage positive buying behavior, a mismatch can often be even more convincing. Mismatches take us by surprise, but more importantly, in a world oversaturated with advertisements, they get our attention. That time your brain spends trying to figure out what’s going on, is time you spend focused on the product.
Getting a prettier supermodel to wear your jeans might make someone more likely to buy them, but in a magazine full of gorgeous supermodels, your ad won’t stand out. Getting Jean Claude Van Damme to stand astride two Volvo trucks as they glide backwards down a desert road gets you 70 million views from people who sought out your advertisement to watch it, the most viewed automotive commercial on YouTube, a 31 per cent spike in Volvo truck sales, and a public that wants to know more about dynamic steering.
On the other hand, as seductive as the power of the mismatch can be, there are times when it can go too far. Sometimes, a pairing is so extreme or poorly matched that it brings in reactions ranging from scorn to outright condemnation, ruining a celebrity’s legacy and doing little for the product they promoted.
Mismatches can be hits, mismatches can be misses, and here are some of the weirdest of all time.
5 Method Man And Sour Patch Kids
Method Man, born Clifford Smith, is considered by many to be one of the preeminent lyricists in the rapping world. As a prominent member of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, deemed one of the most, if not the most, influential rap group of all time, Method Man is known for his solid flow and his acidic sarcasm. So, it’s fair to say that in 2011, when Method Man released his Sour Patch Kid candy-themed rap “World Gone Sour”, only a little more than a year after releasing the critically well-received album, Wu-Massacre, more than a few eyebrows were raised and heads were scratched.
The video featured Method Man and his crew being harassed by a band of ill-humored Sour Patch Kids who escaped their bag to run amok, and served as a tie in for the Sour Patch Kid-themed video game released by Capcom later that year.
The crossover can be considered moderately successful, drawing the notice of many rap publications, receiving a healthy number of views and getting write ups in mainstream publications such as Vulture.com and the Huffington Post, most of whom were trying to figure out what Method Man must have been thinking when he signed on. When asked about the video, Method said that he respected the direction the brand was going in and their decision to let “Meth be Meth.”
4 Snoop Dogg And Norton Antivirus
This one is more train wreck than tour-de-force, and serves as an example the danger of a mismatch gone too far. In 2010, Snoop shocked the rap world (and really the world at large) by debuting his Hack is Wack campaign in conjunction with cyber security provider, Symantec. The contest encouraged ambitious young rappers to send in videos condemning cyber crime. In exchange, the winner would receive a laptop, two tickets to a Snoop concert and a chance to meet with… Snoop’s management team.
The contest was a flop. Problems started immediately when it was revealed that the Hack is Wack website had a number of security flaws, potentially exposing user data. From then on the ad campaign served as a punching bag, with critics calling Symantec’s attempt to connect with a younger generation a ham-fisted disgrace. Forbes has this campaign listed as one of cyber security’s most embarrassing marketing blunders.
3 Bob Dylan And Victoria's Secret
Victoria’s Secret took a gamble in 2004 with its Angels in Venice commercial starring counter-culture icon Bob Dylan, and boy did they lose. The ad, which serves as pretty standard lingerie commercial fare, features Dylan and a winged, panty-clad Adriana Lima skulking around an abandoned mansion (complete with billowing sheer curtains), oddly never appearing in a shot together. According to the creative director involved, the ad tried to portray a svelte angel persuading the jaded Dylan to believe in love again. For all of the blandness of the actual commercial, the public outcry against the commercial was deafening.
Angels in Venice was the first television commercial in which Bob Dylan, a man known for condemning materialism and cultural idolatry, appeared (he has since done many more). Dylan’s fans were aghast when the commercial first aired during American Idol, claiming that the once great man had finally sold out. For his part, Dylan specifically required as part of his contract that the lingerie company not reveal how much he was paid for the ad spot.
When Victoria’s Secret cast him, they were probably counting on contention, or maybe a hint of scandal, but they were probably unprepared for the torrent of vitriol that came their way. If you take the approach that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, you could say that this ad got the job done. Dylan, for his part, never managed to regain the integrity he lost in the eyes of his public.
2 Joe Namath and Beauty Mist
The camera starts at a pair of pantyhose-clad toes. Slowly, it creeps up the legs arriving at a pair of green nylon shorts. A little further and we see a white jersey sporting the number 12. A little further and we see that the sexy legs sporting these pantyhose belong to football hall-of-famer and Superbowl champion, Joe Namath. The moral of the commercial, if Haynes’ Beauty Mist pantyhose can make Joe Namath’s legs look that good, they’ll work on anyone.
The commercial was a success. In fact, it was such a success, that even today many people - mostly those with little interest in football - know Namath as “that football player that wears pantyhose.” The commercial is often referenced in literature examining gender roles and stereotypes in advertising.
1 Flintstones and Winston Cigarettes
Children and advertising is a sticky issue. We’re careful with our kids. Provinces and states have rules about what children can be shown. There are laws against directing advertising for things like alcohol or other substances at children. Which is what makes the 1960s Flintstones cigarette ad so jarring.
When the show first aired, Winston brand cigarettes were one of the primary sponsors of the Flintstones. As such, Fred, Barney, Betty and Wilma could routinely be found in commercials lighting up a Winston and taking it easy. In later years, the Flintstones would try to erase their ties to the tobacco industry, going so far as to issue a public service announcement in 1986 for the American Cancer Association.