Well, here’s something that went viral a couple of weeks ago, and since it is definitely an ad, we owe it to ourselves to break down why it so thoroughly captured the affections of the Internet. (Indeed, the auto blog Jalopnik proclaimed it The Greatest Craigslist Car Ad Ever.)
To be clear, the car is a piece of crap. It is seventeen years old, it has a blown head gasket, it’s going for seven hundred bucks, and the owner didn’t even bother washing it before he took pictures, for goodness’ sake.
The facts of this product would depress even the keenest of creative teams. But the guy who created this ad had no problem with the facts of his product, because he didn’t bother sugarcoating them. Instead, he celebrated every limitation of the car by wrapping it in an insanely manic blanket of hyperbole (outrageous exaggeration). He promised sexual success! And rampant hair growth! He mentioned Jesus! He used a phony chart, an invented quote and a cut-out picture of a crown! He even co-opted the sacred and beloved unicorn!
So why, in ad theory terms, did this ad work so well? For starters, it grabbed people’s attention with its use of 180º Thinking (a term coined by Tom Monahan in his excellent book, The Do-it-Yourself Lobotomy): Instead of promoting the car with the modesty one would expect under the circumstances, the ad took precisely the opposite approach by going crazily over the top.
The ad also used images and ideas that have proven traction with the denizens of the Interwebs: Jesus, beards, chart parodies, hyperbole and unicorns are all familiar staples in the best memes, so ganging them all up in one place made perfect sense.
The ad also made expert use of what I’ve called “the unsaid thing.” The unsaid thing in this case is that the car has very little to recommend it. If the guy had just said that, the ad would never have gone viral. But instead, the ad’s creator allowed people to infer that fact from all his absurd and fantastical boasts. The result is that the reader could enjoy a laugh and also – and this part is important – feel that his intelligence was being respected by someone who knew that the joke didn’t need explaining.
But even great advertising can’t help a bad product. The car hasn’t yet sold, so the owner has pulled this ad in favour of a more conventional Craigslist page. If you’re anywhere near Seattle and you want a dying car with a brilliant backstory, you know what to do: http://seattle.craigslist.org/sno/cto/2977162859.html