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Ads With Attitude

Can you afford to use anti-advertising?

What's with these ads, anyway? You know the ones. The Sprite commercials that say, "Trust your taste buds, not commercials." The Miller Lite ads that poke fun at "our creative genius, Dick." Or those Levi's ads that, well, don't act like ads at all.

Dubbed "anti-advertising," the trend is hot--but does it work? "If your goal is to catch people's attention, it works," says Michael Kamins, associate professor of marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles. "But if your goal is to sell, it's not going to work."

Matthew McAllister, associate professor of com-munication studies at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, says anti-ads' strength is in creating an image. As such, they work best for products aimed at the image-conscious youth market and for products with little difference between brands.

Thinking about trying anti-advertising? Proceed with caution. Although it can work for smaller businesses, McAllister warns that results may not justify the expense. "You need to try outrageous, untested techniques, and that's costly," he says.

Dave Lakhani, owner of Direct Hit Marketing in Boise, Idaho, is blunt: "There's no good reason for a small company ever to engage in this type of advertising." Lakhani, whose full-service marketing, PR and advertising agency handles small clients, elaborates: "[Anti-ads] only further the bottom line if a company has an enormous budget to do them on a consistent basis."

Karen Axelton is managing editor of Business Start-Ups magazine.

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This article was originally published in the March 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ads With Attitude.

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