Pigs eating ham: Absurd genius?

March 21, 2009

pigs1There are often times when I see a ridiculous commercial on TV and I am struck with the sheer absurdity of the idea. I try to imagine just how a creative team leader would pitch the concept, and how some executives would laugh hysterically and think, “Now that is a great idea!” and proceed to spend millions of dollars to put the concept into production, eventually airing on TV.

For example, Boost Mobile has a new commercial which shows two dirty pigs sitting down to dinner in an elegant restaurant. The two pigs are eating ham. One pig defends their cannibalistic dinner selection by likening it to something that is even worse than eating one of your own – a cell phone company that charges hidden fees.

boost-mobile-pigsIf you haven’t seen the commercial yet you can see it here. The pigs eating ham is a follow-up to another incredibly ridiculous Boost Mobile ad which shows a woman riding a bicycle with four feet of hair streaming out from underneath her arms.

To be sure, both commercials have a high potential to offend and thus dissuade customers from the product, particularly if the viewer even takes the time to determine what the commercial is trying to sell. Often with nonsensical advertising, I find myself only recalling the ad, but having no idea what it was actually trying to sell or promote, particularly when the elements are completely unrelated.

To take such a risk in advertising, especially these days when the stakes are higher than ever, isn’t easy, and certainly doesn’t happen without a fair amount of testing and research. And creative departments are aware that there are two completely different results that could potentially come out of any ridiculous or nonsensical campaign.

On the positive side, an atypical concept has the potential to create a huge amount of viral buzz through the controversial or unusual nature of the ad, just as the cannibalistic Boost Mobile pigs have done. If you Google “pigs eating ham,” which I had to do just to figure out what the ad was selling, you will find dozens of message boards and discussion threads with people talking about the campaign.

Many would consider the amount of discussion the ad has generated online to be far more successful than a more generic, and forgettable cell phone commercial, such as Sprint’s recent campaign, which shows the CEO walking through the streets of NYC. The reason is that Boost Mobile is getting its name mentioned in places on the Internet where it wouldn’t normally be. And, as with anything on the Internet, some of it is negative, mainly people who are disgusted with the concept, but there are also a fair number of defenders, who think the commercial is hilarious.

One of the greatest things that can happen to a marketing and advertising team is for a concept to develop a huge viral buzz and spread like wildfire on the Internet. And try as hard as many may, there simply isn’t a formula for doing this. It is just a rare phenomenon, and it sometimes happens to companies who don’t even want it, such as Coca-Cola in the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment.

seinfeldThe other potential outcome from any out-of-the-box advertising campaign is a potentially negative one, where the concept is so ridiculous that it really doesn’t make sense at all, or it is so offensive that it creates an enormous amount of backlash against the product or brand. Microsoft found this out the hard way after spending millions of dollars on a recent campaign with Jerry Seinfeld trying to promote Windows Vista, that people just didn’t get, much like the operating system.

So, are the pigs eating ham a stroke of marketing genius for Boost Mobile? Largely, from what I saw while doing research, they have really created a following of both those that hate and those that love the campaign. But, more importantly, they’ve got people talking about Boost Mobile, which was the whole point anyways.


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