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Stirring the Pot Gets a Reaction, but is it the Right One?

April 2024

This is a self-funded case study using our ad testing solution.

There’s much to be said about the darker side of emotive advertising; specifically, the stirring of negative (and even uncomfortable) feelings, with their potential to trigger an immensely powerful reaction in viewers. Time and time again we've seen how tapping into feelings of sadness, anger, and even fear can be an effective tool; not only in an effort to engage audiences, but also compel them to act. But on this emotional spectrum, there remains one other dark art that is rarely explored, and which is perhaps the most contentious of them all — irritation.

Deliberately evoking annoyance offers brands a tantalizing route to entering people’s mental headspace, ultimately clearing one of advertising’s primary hurdles: cut-through and recall. However, this bold tactic naturally also comes with risks, given its potential to detract from advertising’s ultimate goal — delivering profitable returns for brand owners. Often what happens with this strategy is the brand inadvertently plays second fiddle to the annoyance, with negative impressions almost always counterintuitive to the type of emotional appeal most commercially oriented brands are aiming to stir. And this obviously presents a problem given much of people’s decision making is guided by their gut instinct and whether something feels like a good choice.

Which brings us to Pot Noodle’s polarizing campaign that hit U.K. airwaves over recent months, with the ad focusing on the less-than-elegant — but highly relatable — sound of soup being slurped. What can be said for certain is that the approach succeeded in its efforts to grab people’s attention; however, at the same time it proved highly divisive. While some found humor in the lighthearted scenario, many others were put off by the repulsive sounds (with the culprit’s work colleagues featured in the ad equally displeased). This subsequently overshadowed the ad’s ability to tap into important category entry points such as convenience and taste, thus limiting predisposition toward the product.

If we accept that advertising’s job is to build mental availability and foster positive emotional connections, this is ultimately where a strategy like this can quickly come undone. While the exaggerated slurp has the potential to develop into a unique cue for the brand with repeated use over time, on the flip side it rubs the majority of the noodle-consuming population up the wrong way. This meant the ad struggled to convert the quirkiness of the theatrics into a fun and positive impression of Pot Noodle.

It’s why objectives such recall and cut-through are often a moot point when achieved as a byproduct of irritation. Ultimately, juggling distinctiveness, brand presence, and a compelling proposition — all within an enjoyable idea — represents the path to glory for advertisers. And while utilizing irritation has the potential to help brands deliver on some of these objectives, caution must be exercised around others it can quickly derail.

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