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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Goldfarb

Embracing the 'Ugly': A Holiday Twist on Effective Advertising

Once upon a time, during the Victorian era, festive knitwear began its journey, embodying the spirit of Christmas in its every thread. Fast forward to today, and this tradition has evolved – or should we say, escalated? The holiday season now flaunts a degree of commercialization where garments grow more outlandish by the year. Enter the era of Ugly Sweaters.

Yes, since the mid-1980s, the ugly sweater became an iconic meme, thanks to Bill Huxtable from The Cosby Show and Chevy Chase's character in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And let's not forget Andy Williams, crooning holiday tunes clad in sweaters adorned with reindeer, elves, and Santa Claus himself. From unique and cool, to outdated, to retro and nostalgic, these wonderfully tacky, ornate seasonal sweaters have become a beloved part of our holiday pop culture, celebrated in films like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Love Actually, and Elf.

And then, the pièce de résistance – in the US, we've even dedicated a national day (Ugly Christmas Sweater Day) on the third Friday of each December to proudly don this quintessentially 'hated' clothing item.


Ugly Sweaters and Ugly Ads: A Marketing Phenomenon

But what do these sartorial choices have to do with advertising, you might ask? Just like the evolution of the ugly sweater, there's a trend in the world of marketing that mirrors this journey – the rise of 'ugly ads.'

These aren't poorly made or ineffective advertisements. Instead, 'ugly ads' refer to those marketing materials that prioritize raw, authentic appeal over high polish and sophistication. They often have a lo-fi, less refined look, feeling more real and less 'corporate.'


The Quirky Genesis of 'Ugly Ads'

Ever wonder how 'ugly ads' became a thing? Picture this: in a world bombarded by glossy, picture-perfect ads, along came the rebel of the advertising world – the 'ugly ad.' Barry Holt, the guru of consumer psychology, spills the beans: "If you want your ad to be seen, you need to get past people’s subconscious visual ad blockers.” And boy, do 'ugly ads' do just that.

Think of those doorbell camera snapshots, wobbly phone footage, and grainy TV clips. They're the advertising world's equivalent of an ugly sweater – not exactly runway material, but somehow, they grab your attention and refuse to let go. Thanks to social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, this raw, DIY-style has gone from the 'What are they thinking?' category to 'Can't miss this!'

It sounds like a wild ride, right? Well, with the digital universe expanding faster than a holiday waistline, it totally works. Nowadays, we’re glued to our screens for over eight hours a day (guilty as charged!), giving digital advertisers more eyeball time than ever. And the numbers are as eye-popping as a neon ugly sweater: a whopping $81 billion spent on digital ads in 2023, with a big chunk splashed on – you guessed it – 'ugly ads.'

So, next time you see one of these gloriously unpolished gems, remember there’s method to the madness!


Why 'Ugly' Works

In a sea of polished, high-budget ads, why do these lower-fi, real, and less polished ads resonate so deeply? It boils down to authenticity. In an age where perfection is the norm, anything that deviates – much like an intentionally ugly sweater – feels refreshingly genuine.

Here are more ‘not-so-ugly’ reasons:

  • Approachability Wins: 'Ugly' ads, much like their sweater counterparts, feel down-to-earth, making businesses seem more accessible.

  • Curiosity Spurs Engagement: Just as an outlandish sweater invites conversation, an unconventional ad piques interest and boosts engagement.


Businesses Best Suited for 'Ugly Ads'

From small local businesses with their charming, homely appeal to e-commerce platforms showcasing niche, unique products, 'ugly ads' can be a game-changer. Even startups seeking to cut through the noise can benefit from this unpolished, human approach.


Crafting Your Own 'Ugly Ad' Masterpiece

Remember, 'ugly' in advertising doesn't mean careless. It's about striking a balance where simplicity, honesty, and a dash of quirkiness come together to create a memorable ad.

Here's how to craft an 'ugly ad' that’s effectively engaging:

  1. Simplicity is Key: Think of your ad as the digital equivalent of an ugly sweater – it doesn't need to be complicated. A simple, straightforward message often resonates more than a complex one.

  2. Embrace Authenticity: Your ad should feel like a conversation with a friend, not a sales pitch. This means opting for natural, unforced language and visuals that feel relatable.

  3. Inject Honesty: Today’s consumers are savvy; they appreciate transparency. Let your product or service shine in its true form, without excessive embellishments.

  4. Add a Dash of Quirkiness: Just like those beloved ugly sweaters, a little bit of quirk can make your ad stand out. This could be a humorous twist, a surprising element, or a unique visual approach that captures attention.

  5. Visual Approachability: ‘Ugly ads’ often feature visuals that are less polished – think raw images, hand-drawn elements, or even amateur video clips. These elements can create a sense of intimacy and genuineness.

  6. Test and Learn: As with any ad, it’s important to test different versions to see what resonates with your audience. The beauty of ‘ugly ads’ is their ability to be quickly produced and iterated upon.


Keep in mind, the goal of an 'ugly ad' isn't just to sell; it's to forge a genuine connection. It's about making your audience feel something authentic, something that stands out amidst the noise of overly polished, cookie-cutter ads. It might not be high fashion, but it certainly grabs attention in a way that’s endearingly memorable.


So, this holiday season, as you celebrate Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, think about how an 'ugly ad' could bring a similar charm and effectiveness to your marketing efforts – drawing in customers, enhancing retargeting strategies, and boosting traffic in a way that's cost-effective and authentic.


Looking to weave some 'ugly sweater' magic into your marketing campaigns? Email me at Together let’s turn 'ugly' into 'undeniably effective.'

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