I was reading a story on USA Today's Web site the other day when an ad appearing on the right side of the page jumped out at me. It was a picture of a strange looking guy — really strange — along with the following text: "Homeowners fail to refi. Only 85,000 homeowners have taken advantage of Obama's refinance plan. Calculate new payment."
That statement is sensible enough (we've even built our own refinancng calculator), but the picture that accompanied the ad seemed utterly unrelated, and actually seems to have been photoshopped to make the guy look extra freaky. His nostrils seems enlarged, he is wearing 1980s-era dork glasses and he's got one of the most prominent rows of choppers on the Web. The thing is, I know I've seen the guy's picture before, but this was the first time I actually paid attention.
I clicked the link and was taken to LowerMyBills.com, which is owned and run by Experian. According to the site, they are a "free online service for consumers to compare low rates on monthly bills and reduce the cost of living," and they offer "savings through relationships with more than 500 service providers across multiple categories, including home loans, credit cards, auto and health insurance, and long-distance and wireless services."
OK. All of that sounds perfectly reasonable. So what's with the freaky picture? I decided to reach out to their PR people. I sent them a screengrab of the image and asked them to please explain what it was all about.
Here's the company's response courtesy of PR representative Danica Ross: "All of our advertisements are designed to cut through the noise of Internet advertising in order to reach consumers and make them aware of the opportunities they have to save money. Our advertisements are created by our internal Marketing Department. Additional information related to the development of specific advertisements is proprietary. Sorry I can't provide more detail about the specific ad you mention. Please let me know if you have any other questions."
So it sounds like they create pictures designed to attract eyeballs and it doesn't matter if those pics have nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with the stuff they are promoting. So I followed up, with one of the more inspired e-mails I've ever written to a PR person.
If you like this story, check out this post on the craziest subliminal ads of all time.