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3 Ad Campaigns That Got So Big, They Annoyed the Hell Out of Consumers

Lessons from multi-channel marketing run amok

Ad blitzes for Anchorman 2, Minions and Game of War pushed audiences to the saturation point.

When it comes to building awareness, how much is too much? Multi-channel campaigns harnessing the power of digital space, air time and even real time have proven successful. But when does it tip over into overkill?

With the biggest brands double-, triple- and even quadruple-flanking consumers, the trick becomes how to be near the top of mind without going over-the-top.

However, there's a risk that sometimes comes to those who can afford the most expensive marketing efforts (i.e., Hollywood): The marketing becomes the main event.

"If you build up expectations over time with these huge marketing things and then the product you're selling—the final piece in that journey—is bad, then you've lost all of those people. It should be the quality of the final product that's really important," said Jess Greenwood, vp of content and partnerships at digital agency R/GA.

Greenwood said the rise of multi-channel marketing (and its larger evolution, omni-channel marketing) heralds a new phase of advertising, with brands embracing campaign systems that blend creative and data on multiple fronts.

"If they were being smart they would be building out that sort of love over time instead of disappearing for five years and then coming up with a campaign that is overwhelming," she said.

Here are three examples of campaigns that probably went too far:

Minions

The Minions have taken over more than the box office. They've taken over your bananas. Your deliveries. Your burgers. Your very breath.

The Minions have been as mischievous with marketing as they are in the movie. Just this week, one blocked traffic in Dublin (in real life).

At some point, the campaign for Universal Studios' summer blockbuster about yellow jibber-jabbering creatures clearly went too far for many consumers.

Even One Direction fans took issue with a band member for a Minions reference on Instagram, sparking the guy in the video to huff that he'd never bother making another.

Officially, the estimated $593 million publicity spree has been effective. Its 32 million Facebook fan base is just one example of the digital success the campaign has garnered long before debuting last month, when it nearly set an opening-weekend box office record.

According to Katie Notopoulos, a Buzzfeed senior editor and Minion expert, the movie's popularity peaked long before its release. The real trouble began, she said, when the campaign won over the moms of America via memes and stickers, making it hard for young people to see the movie as cool.

"I think that's how the backlash happened," she said. "It started with young people who were savvy on the Internet, who already figured out that Minion memes were synonymous with being an uncool mom, so when the products started it became this joke that they were everywhere."

However, Notopoulos said fan fatigue doesn't necessarily translate into a lack of interest.

"At the end of the day, I don't think that the people who make fun of Minion memes, and the people who talk about how they hate them being everywhere in the grocery store, I don't think they dislike the minions movie any more than they would have," she said.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

In the lead-up to his 2013 return for Anchorman 2, fictional news anchor Ron Burgundy seemed to be almost literally everywhere.

In addition to all those Dodge Durango commercials, there was the Scotchy Scotch Toss mobile game and Scotchy Scotch Scotch ice cream from Ben & Jerry's, along with Burgundy's very own brand of Scotch.

Burgundy, played by Will Ferrell, made cameos that fit better with a slightly older demographic, and even appeared overseas in Ireland congratulating actor Jamie Dornan on winning a lead role in Fifty Shades of Grey. Some say the social media push—complete with videos, Twitter, Facebook, and everything else—was unprecedented and effective.

"I don't think anyone had seen just such a blitzkrieg of content," said Jonny Rose, head of content for London-based content strategy agency Idio. "It was impressive, but it was also oppressive towards the end."

Rose said the majority of the plan was effective. However, the tail end veered toward being too saturated, leading a number of people in the U.K. and U.S. to complain.

R/GA's Greenwood said the campaign seemed to overcompensate for the actual film, which didn't win over as many fans as the first.

Despite (or because of) its inescapable marketing, Anchorman 2 opened to disappointing box office results. While it eventually tallied about $173 million globally, the movie seemed to be hobbled out of the gate by an overabundance of visibility.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the backlash:

"That heaping plate of Ron Burgundy over the past few months (there was also that anchoring of news in North Dakota, the relentless Dodge Durango commercials, the Newseum exhibition, the underwear cross-promotion) made people feel like they had gotten their fill of the character. Film fans really wanted to see a few more hours of Ferrell and friends getting into mischief," Times writer Steven Zeitchik wrote. "And thanks to all these appearances, they did so weeks ago."

Game of War

If there's anywhere that supermodel Kate Upton seems unwanted, it's Twitter—at least among users who are tired of seeing her in endless ads for Game of War. 

After appearing in a Super Bowl ad, Upton became the ubiquitous face of the mobile game, now one of the top-grossing in the world thanks largely to its $40 million ad push across digital and offline media alike. 

But that success has come at the cost of widespread backlash, nowhere more visible than on Twitter:

The game's financial success continues to fuel the ad campaign driving the customer growth, but some marketing experts say that ignoring audience frustration can be a short-sighted move.

"What happens when you look at the numbers first and consumers second is you never, ever make the connection that it might be annoying," Greenwood said.

Idio's Rose said the problem with the Upton campaign isn't the content, but the form. The campaign, he said, is a classic example of interruptive advertising, forcing a product onto consumers when they're simply not interested.

Rose said campaigns need to be looking not just at how creative they can be, but also at the data before, after and especially during a campaign to see which strategies are bothering an audience and which are well received.

"These campaigns can't just be seen as creative only: 'Does this look good?' or 'Is this a compelling message?'," he said. "They need to look at the stats that come from those campaigns, and then use these stats to inform the campaign as it goes along."

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