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Dada Ad
Lisa: "Dad, was that your ad?"
Homer: "I... don't know."

When it comes to a Mind Screw, the justification of True Art comes to mind.

But not when a work has a primary purpose other than art.

A Dada Ad is when some people forget they were hired to sell a product and instead create ads that just confuse potential customers. Not only do they not know what's going on, but when (or if) the product is finally revealed, they may be confused even more.

Note Values Dissonance can come into play here. What's confusing in some countries and regions is normal elsewhere, so examples of ads should make sure they're confusing in the region in which they are placed. Alternatively, they may have been trying to make a splash for their ad company and forgot about the client. A third possibility is that a bizarre ad may be less likely to be fast-forwarded through by DVR viewers, and well done ads of this type can be quite memorable if they somehow successfully manage to link the product to the ad.

Compare Gainax Ending, What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?, What Were They Selling Again?. Contrast Exactly What It Says on the Tin, or at least the trope-naming Ronseal adverts.

Examples:

Anime
  • In Gintama, what started off as four minutes of talking mannequins suddenly became a PSA for the switch from analog to digital television.

Film
  • The special features for Cloverfield include a commercial for Slusho, a beverage that appears in many of J.J. Abrams' works.
  • Serenity gives us a commercial for Fruity Oaty Bars, which features, among other things, a man being made from a mouse, a squid coming out of a woman's blouse, and a Japanese man upset that he has dishonored his family by not remembering to buy some of the product. The commercial is also designed to set River Tam off into an uncontrollable ball of Waif-Fu melee destruction in order to make it more difficult for her to remain in hiding.

Live-Action TV
  • Saturday Night Live loved to parody this (at least in The Eighties). One ad had two people standing around making small talk for 30 seconds, and then the name of a defense industry company appears.
    • Also in The Nineties (or at least the earlier years), they riffed on the inscrutable Calvin Klein perfume ads at least once. The most memorable of the skits featured the late, much-missed Phil Hartman.
  • The Apprentice usually features a task where the teams create a television advertisement for a certain product. Almost invariably, the first team's ad will be a heavy-handed and unrealistic scenario, while the second team follows this trope to the letter. The first team will usually win, as perhaps best illustrated by the task in Series 4 in the UK. (The ads begin at 0:30 and 2:48, and Alan Sugar voices his opinion on Dada Ads at 4:13)
    • There was one time when both teams (tasked with advertising a body wash) came out with something like this. One depicted a runner splashing the soap on his face, without rinsing it off, and the other was entirely themed around gay sex innuendo, which doesn't fly on mainstream US advertising. Needless to say, neither team won this round.
    • Alan Sugar once described this trope as one of his pet hates on Room 101 so it's not surprising he would rule against ads using it. Although some of those ads were horrible anyway, like the already infamous Pantsman advert from series 5. An attempt to sell a cereal called Wake Up Call by advertising it as what you need to stop you putting your pants on over your clothes. And the mascot was Pantsman, a superhero who wears his pants over his clothes. The team Handwaved the Fridge Logic of this by saying only Pantsman can wear his pants over his trousers, never mind that most kids view superheroes as role models and want to do what they do. Unsurprisingly, they lost and Philip, the creator of Pantsman, will most likely Never Live It Down. Because Who Would Be Stupid Enough to design an advertising campaign based on pants? (Note for Americans: "pants", in this case, means underwear).
  • The Gruen Transfer has two regular segments that deals with this type of ad: "What Does It Mean?", in which they often contact the original ad agency to explain what was going on, and "What Is It For?" in which the product shot is cut off the end, and the panelists have to guess which product is being advertised.
  • A 30 Rock episode featured an eccentric businessman played by Steve Martin, who owned a company called SunStream. Eventually, it's revealed that he's a fraud and SunStream is a sham company. He points out that "If you ever watched our commercials, we never said what we did" and then the show cuts to one such ad.
  • An episode of Viva Variety had a game show where contestants tried to identify the products being promoted in (fictitious) European commercials. Not one commercial had anything to do with what was being sold.
  • Although it's not an ad, the wedding video that Lester creates for Chuck and Sarah fits the same mold. And it is hilariously awful.

Literature
  • Interestingly, Hugo Ball's 1916 Dada Manifesto inverts the principle, using what sounds like a conventional advertising slogan for an actual brand of soap ("Hobby horse", or "Dada" in French) in a text that is meant to be utterly nonsensical:
    Dada is the world's soul
    Dada is the whole point
    Dada is the best lily milk soap in the world!

Newspaper Comics
  • Mocked at least once in Dilbert with the Amorphous Ad Company.

Real Life
  • Apple Computer Inc. ran one of the most infamous Dada ads of all time in 1984, featuring a rather heavy-handed Orwellian caricature of their competitors (or something).
    • It seems the ad was made just for the pun at the end. "1984 won't be like 1984".
  • Perfume commercials have made this practically a cliche. It probably kicked off with a string of commercials in the late Eighties and early Nineties for the perfume Obsession. This was even lampshaded in The Golden Girls. Then it went full circle; a savvy viewer can always tell a perfume commercial because it has nothing to do with perfume, or anything else, for that matter.
    "I see her, I want her...
    She is, what she is...
    She sees, but she is blind...
    She has legs, but she has no legs...
    She is alive, but she is dead...
    She is a woman, but she is monkey...
    And I know that I want her, because she it was she is, and what she is:
    A blind, dead, disabled monkey, and I know that I want her,
    'Shallamon' by 'Goulan'" ...WHAT DOES IT FUCKING SMELL LIKE?!
  • The pre-release Dreamcast adverts are fairly notorious for having nothing to do with anything - all they feature is people with spiral hair, you don't even get to see the console itself. Somewhat of a bitter 'if only' with Dreamcast fans.
  • The Saturn didn't fare much better, with the ads being very prone to not making much sense nor actually advertising the Saturn. While Sega eventually managed to stop making such commercials come the "Hard Stuff" campaign, the prime example of this can be seen in the promotional video Sega produced to market the Saturn at launch. While the video admittedly talks about the Saturn's features for most of the 9 minutes (yes, it's that long), that's to say nothing of what actually happens during the dialogue. Absolutely nothing makes sense, nor does it have anything remotely to do with the Sega Saturn, and it's one of the few of these ads that has to be seen to be believed. Words simply can't do it justice.
    • But even so, the "Hard Stuff" campaign does have the Sonic R ad, which goes back to being bizarre. It depicts two live-action humans rendered in stop-motion, flying through a house at high speed while hard rock music plays. You don't even realize it's an ad for a Sonic game until the end, when it shows gameplay and has a robotic voice saying "Sonic R, by Sega. Hard stuff."
  • 2008 USA Presidential candidate Mike Gravel ran ads like this; one had him standing by a lake before tossing a rock in and walking off, another had him lighting a campfire. No one could figure it out, not even Gravel himself. It sure was freaking creepy, though; Jon Stewart remarked that seven days after you view the ad, you will die.
  • Cialis commercials where, for some reason, there's an old couple sitting in bathtubs outdoors. It's never explained and has no apparent connection to erectile dysfunction.
    • At least a partial justification for them, seeing as a combination of Moral Guardians, Fan Disservice and trying not to insult their potential customers leaves them little they can say about their product... plus, since everyone already knows what it's for, the ads are presumably meant to promote brand recognition.
    • From a similar product, there was Enzyte's (in)famous "Smiling Bob" commercials. They typically consisted of said Smiling Bob putting on an exaggerated smile, doing various random things. A narrator carries the advertisement, explaining just what the product does and why Bob is smiling. Take him away, though, and it's just some lunatic with a smile that looks like he was the victim of a back alley Botox treatment, drinking coffee, driving a car or staring at random things. At the end of the day, more people knew of Bob more than the product he tried to sell, to the point where he became a Memetic Mutation.
  • One Levi's commercial consisted of a guy and a girl standing in the middle of a city, while a herd of bison stampeded around them.
  • U.S. and European ads for the PlayStation 3 were notorious for this, even though they didn't create the furor that some Unfortunate Implications ads for Sony's previous systems did.
    • The initial run of European adverts didn't even feature the name of the product, just the URL www.thisisliving.tv. As a result, many people assumed they were intended to advertise the satellite channel Living, especially as the content of the ads seemed to focus on some kind of Soap Opera.
    • The PSP got a similar treatment with these squirrels.
  • Those Sprite commercials where the flowers have mouths, green sumo wrestlers hit each other, and other strange things occur. It doesn't really make you want to drink Sprite.
    • Sprite had a series of ads called "sublymonal messages" which was just bizarre, randomly skipping images focusing on odd uses of lemons and limes (or at least green and yellow things).
      • Which is much better than the newer commercial, where people drink Sprite, run into each other, and explode.
      • Heck, the initial commercial using the exploding water concept was even worse: It had a guy doing a backflip on an asphalt basketball court and preparing to land on his back, exploding into liquid only upon contact with the ground!
      • Most recently in line with the people exploding into Sprite, rapper drake was featured drinking Sprite to get re-energized. All well and good, until his skin pops open like panels on a robot as the soda travels through his system.
  • David Lynch directed a couple of commercials. They are just as bizarre as you might expect from the man.
    • Heck, just take a look at any of his Playstation 2 commercials.
    • Or the teaser ad he made for Michael Jackson's Dangerous, which later appeared on the compilation of music videos for that album.
    • The weirdness of this cigarette ad is compounded by the fact that it is backwards. Apparently.
  • When the Japanese automobile company Infiniti made their American debut, their commercials became notorious for not showing or talking about the car at all.
    • One late-night TV host (it might have been Carson or Leno) commenting that sales of the car were still flat, but sales of rocks and trees were way up after that commercial.
  • A Frontline examination of advertising today states that all this got started by an Acura commercial, which was a shot of a thunderstorm in the distant Savannah.
  • This Dunlop ad— 'cause nothing says 'tires' like the Velvet Underground and fat guys in nipple clamps.
  • British chocolate company Cadbury has lately released some very trippy ads.
    • The ad with two children twitching their brows was very badly received in Hong Kong: the importer of Cadbury had to take it down.
    • The Now Show Book of Records awards them the prize of most baffling adverts ever. "What any of that has to do with a bar of chocolate, God alone only knows."
    • And now we have another advertisement that also fits the bill, although it makes slightly more sense considering they're running a dancing contest for 2012 Olympics tickets.
    • This is also the company that hired "Weebl & Bob" to do a series of movie parodies involving exploding Creme Eggs.
  • David LaChapelle likes using this trope. When an ad for McDonald's includes naked breasts and Ronald McDonald lying on the floor in his undies, you've got to wonder what the man was smoking. the golden arches are supposed to represent breasts and thus make us hungry. That it resembles the first letter in "mother" is less coincidental than the fact that it resembles the first letter in the corporation's name. Freud Was Right, after all.
  • A Japanese McDonald's ad featured a girl having a Mirror Match with herself. The commercial alternates between a video game style and real life where the two girls just smash their heads together.
  • A Toohey's ad which appeared to be featuring the Man With Silly Hair growing beer in these giant cocoon-like plants. Please explain.
  • There was a commercial for Mini cooper cars where the car drives into a parking lot and was attacked by living shopping trolleys.
  • In Australia, there was a few ads that were made intentionally boring by showing one scene of someone smoking. The scene was actually probably less than a minute long but seemed like 3 minutes. In the end, we got the text "Smoking is very interesting". This is unusual for Australian PSAs because most of our PSAs tend to be a tad more direct.
  • Vodafone has a new add touting its new smartphone, it features people with fuzzy masks at a wedding for no clear reason. Whenever it comes up, people who see it wonder what it's trying to sell.
  • Michael Jackson's 1995 double album HIStory, which featured one disc of greatest hits and another of new material, had a nearly four-minute long trailer made that ran in movie theaters. The trailer turned out to be a short film in which masses of people welcome Jackson into a city as, apparently, a benevolent ruler and unveil a colossal statue of him, which causes said masses to erupt in an even bigger frenzy complete with a little boy crying out "Michael, I love you!" At no point is the actual product shown, described, or heard from, as its makers chose to use music from The Hunt for Red October instead. As Sean Weitner commented in a Flak Magazine article, "[I]t's a video without original Jackson music" (emphasis his). It didn't so much sell the album as the idea that Jackson had a ridiculously inflated ego.
  • A certain Australian Toyota ad does this. Though we are told what the ad was for (a new sports car), that does not justify the anthropomorphic ninja cats kung-fu fighting against each other.Then again, maybe it doesn't need to be justified.
    • This ad, however, needs some justification for why Toyota believes an expedition to the deepest point in the Uncanny Valley will help them sell a car. And before that, they had an ad proclaiming that their new car is a car, and a Corolla campaign inexplicably partnered with Hatsune Miku. Maybe they just want people to forget about the "help the accelerator pedal has fallen and it can't get up" fiasco?
  • Is this... an ad for tires?! Why is Astro Boy there?!
  • Las Vegas CityCenter is trying to give the city a reputation for True Art, so the advertisement shows almost nothing but a couple dramatic shots of the product in between lots of footage of people having great fun doing things nowhere near Las Vegas (riding the waves in a yacht?) Even fans who had been following the project since groundbreaking found the ad almost incomprehensible.
  • If you thought the PS3 ads were weird, you haven't seen Future of Gaming. It's supposedly a 9-minute promotional animated short for the PlayStation 2 (even commissioned by Sony), but it's nothing short of grade-A Mind Screw. Some of the ending is not safe for work, but that will be the least of your problems if you decide to see this. It should be clear less than halfway in why Sony disowned it.
  • American alcohol commercials such as an ad for Heineken. It involves a woman dressed in leather in a crowded club flying-kick three men while carrying two Heineken bottles on a tray, while an ad for Smirnoff vodka involves a group of young adults entering a city substructure and playing jazz music because "they were tired of the usual places". The Smirnoff logo appears at the end, and some bring Smirnoff with them and put it into a cooler, but otherwise does not appear in the ad.
  • Don't Say no to the Panda
  • Honda adverts... just Honda adverts.
    • Surprisingly, a Pogo song is apparently where they draw the weirdness line.
    • Hey, that Rube Goldberg machine was real!
  • This Stella Artois commercial, complete with a title and a subtitle in French. Reassuringly elephants!
  • At the time of writing, there are some TV ads trying to promote travel to Canada. The problem is that most of them have no dialogue, and none of them tell the viewer anything about Canada.Rea
  • A man gets on a train and bleats like a sheep. As anyone would do in such a bizarre situation, the rest of the passengers start laughing in a way that makes the room in Evil Dead 2 look like Ben Stein. A girl walks into the train at starts clucking, then a man barks. Clearly, racism is wrong.
  • This commercial is filled with extremely cute little bunnies doing extremely cute things at an old-style fair while soothing music plays. As we see a pair of them rising up in a hot air balloon, a neon sign comes swings down from the sky and hits their balloon. It reads "SWEET MILLION IS SWEETER THAN SWEET", and then another which says, "WHICH IS SWEET" crashes into the first one. Yes, this sickeningly sweet commercial was made to sell lottery tickets.
  • The infamous 2012 commercial attempting to introduce Chanel No. 5 to men, consisting of black and white footage of Brad Pitt standing against faded wall paper giving Fauxlosophical Narration.
  • This old ad for the Game Boy Pocket. It was nothing short of this and had little to do with the actual product. It was shown a few times, but never actually played with or anything. Instead, for a good 30 seconds, we are treated to miniature people doing weird stunts and stuff in or on ordinary household items, including a bunch of hipsters swimming in a jar of alcohol swabs. Not until the end do we actually hear the name of the product as "NEW GAME BOY POCKET". The mixed song in the background also includes samples from the very ad itself.
  • Boxman, a short-lived early British online music and video retailer, failed largely because its adverts, showing a suited man with a cardboard box over his head dropped into random scenes, completely failed to explain what it was.
  • The early TV adverts for Eurostar trains through the Channel Tunnel failed to explain the nature of the business coherently, leading to people turning up at the terminal in central London expecting to drive their cars onto the train.
  • Barclays Bank adverts, which illustrate savings accounts through coin gardens and piles of singing banknotes, and mortgages through herding piggybanks or operating a railway handcar. The humorous voiceover often seems as bemused as the audience ("Is the squirrel relevant?")
  • A group of giant rapping hamsters would like you to know that a Kia is better to drive than a toaster.
  • Mayflower Moving will help anyone with their moving needs. Even if you are a 20-foot tall puppet.
  • Cracked has articles about this.
  • A European ad for the first Playstation depicts a family at a dinner table, having a conversation. Except, they're speaking with video game sound effects. One of them only makes sounds from Crash Bandicoot, another only makes war sounds, etc. It then zooms into their mouths to reveal that their uvulas are in the shapes of the Playstation buttons!
  • Another Playstation example: The American ad for Um Jammer Lammy depicted a car jumping a ramp and crashing into a pool at high speed, while listening to the Stage 4 music.
  • Now that The Man Your Man Could Smell Like has run its course, Old Spice has resorted to...hawks scary enough to make a player lay down a royal flush.
  • This Orangina ad (Made in France, but does that explain the furries?).
  • One of the reasons The Monkees' only feature film Head was a flop is blamed on this avant-garde TV trailer, showing only a dialogue-free black and white film of Andy Warhol associate/publicist John Brockman's head with the word "HEAD" superimposed on his head's right side in the last few seconds, and no mention of The Monkees at all. Granted the psychedelic/avant-garde nature of the film, the band's increased Hatedom in the rock music press, and the band wanting to market it outside of their bubblegum audience, this is understandable (although the group had nothing to do with the campaign, and Peter Tork later called the ad "so avant-garde as to be positively repulsive".)
  • This commercial entitled "Pickle Surprise." It's a commercial for mayonnaise. Try to remember that at the end of this 90-second Mind Screw.
    • It's not a real ad. It's an LGBT art film made by the late Gay video artist Tom Rubnitz. It's basically some weird sexual Double Entendre made in the style of a kitschy commercial.
  • Just for Feet, a sneaker company, hired an ad firm to design a commercial for the Super Bowl. The ad in question featured a Kenyan runner getting hunted down and "tagged" by white scientists with a pair of sneakers. Setting aside the weird-ass nature and Unfortunate Implications, Just for Feet was so pissed off by the ad that they brought suit against the ad firm.
  • This Japanese series of commercials featured six dancing cat women covered from top to bottom in latex. They would reveal the celebrity in one of the suits, while asking the viewer to guess the next one. If this campaign doesn't convince you to go see a boat race, we don't know what will.

Stand-Up Comedy
  • Ron White uses this trope in one of his comedy routines. He says perfume ads have become too complex for simple men like himself. Then he describes an over-the-top Dada Ad which ends with a man on fire and sensual woman saying, "I would know him in the dark." The punchline is, "What's the trick? He's ON FIRE!"
  • Margaret Cho was first to the punch with poking fun at crazy perfume commercials, most notably the insane Egoiste ad featuring women residing in an old European-type apartment complex who open their windows and shout the perfume's name before closing them. Ms. Cho said she always wanted to get famous enough to have a commercial where those women opened up their windows, shouted out her Korean name (Moran), then closed their windows.

Videogames
  • In Cake Mania 2 the message you get after completing the August level of the Grand Battle stage says that satisfied Japanese customers are thinking of making a commercial for the main character's bakery: "Something to do with cute hamsters, a talking mushroom and go-go dancers playing poker with fish."

Web Original
  • Neal Boortz expresses his confusion at the Lexis IS ads.
  • The third Powerthirst ad by Picnicface. While the other two were fairly straight Testosterone Poisoning-driven tirades, this one...well...Drink Powerthirst! Shoot the clouds! Hit Jesus! Strap him to a bull! JESUS RODEO, DEAD JESUS RODEO!
  • Lars M. Dusseldorf made a commercial for the 2011 Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo featuring random dancers, a song with lyrics that constantly repeated, "C2. E2.", and such phrases as, "Are C2 and E2 lost in a world without meaning? No. C2E2 is life!"
  • In Welcome to Night Vale, every episode has a segment where Cecil says "And now for a word from our sponsors..." followed by something that at best only vaguely resembles an ad. In one case, it's just Cecil making strange groaning noises for a couple seconds. In many more, a bizarre monologue is followed by the non-sequitur name-dropping of a company or product. Dips into Word Salad Horror in some cases.

Webcomics
  • Parodied in the prologue of Brian Carroll's webcomic Instant Classic.
  • One strip of Kevin & Kell has the Dewclaw family watching a commercial for Kevin's online grooming service Flea-Bay. None of them are able to figure out when or if the actual service is mentioned in the commercial.

Western Animation
  • The Simpsons: "Mr. Plow" hires a fancy ad firm and they give him a weird Calvin Klein Obsession knock off complete with a Citizen Kane Shout-Out, as well as the source of the quote above. "What the hell was that?!"
    • Further, the "Mr. Sparkle" ad for a Japanese dish soap begins fairly normally, but quickly descends into madness, with go-go dancing girls who change into sumo dancers when the mascot breathes on them, and a reporter interviewing a two-headed cow which then disintegrates.
  • Likewise, the crew of Futurama has a commercial made about their delivery service, but upon viewing the finished product (which is based on the 1984 Apple ad mentioned above) are baffled by the abstract imagery and conflicting messages.
  • Don Hertzfeldt's animated short Rejected presents a series of Dada Ads created by an unbalanced animator who is possibly suffering from "creative stagnation in a commercial world." All of his humorously surreal and unsettling cartoons are rejected for being wildly inappropriate. The animator has a mental breakdown and his cartoon world collapses.
  • Dexter's Laboratory had a commercial for Puppet Pals Jeans featuring Deliberately Monochrome models and an eerie lack of music. Also, the Puppet Pals themselves did not show up until the last 15 seconds, though earlier scenes had abstract references to them. At the end, Tom Kenny tries to prevent the viewers from thinking, "What Were They Selling Again??" by informing them (with a French accent), "You know it's Puppet Pals because of the name on the label."
  • Parodied in Codename: Kids Next Door in the episode where the sectors are showing off their latest advancements in two-by-four technology. Many groups put together small video presentations about their inventions. The French KND shows off their invention with a black and white video about absolutely nothing coherent. The operatives evaluating the inventions and demonstrations calls off the ad part of the way through and just asks outright what it's supposed to be advertising. Their response is essentially that True Art Is Incomprehensible.
  • The Problem Solverz episode "Breakfast Warz" features a commercial for Professor Sugar Fish's Psycho Puffs of Madness cereal, which involves a kid flopping around with a giant rainbow-colored fish laughing in Morse code while their house burns down and bright neon colors flash everywhere. After viewing the commercial, Horace responds with, "Well, that was crazy..."
  • In Rocko's Modern Life, the title character becomes an underwear model and appears in a surreal ad, he asks the director what this has to do with underwear. "Everything" the director says.
  • In Metalocalypse, the members of Dethklok sign a number of endorsement deals, and star in a series of ads that have them interchangeably starring out over the sunset atop a mountain in the desert (with a score straight out of a Perfume Commercial).

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alternative title(s): Gainax Commercial; Mind Screw Marketing
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