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What Were They Selling Again?

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"Best ad ever? [singing] 'Gimme a break! Gimme a break! Break me off a piece of that...' um... what was it again?"
Andy, The Office (US)

There are many ways in which a commercial can fail to get its message across. Some ads are uninteresting; others are so bad that they turn more viewers against the product than they attract. But some commercials fail because they're too good.

A commercial that's too clever, or features too memorable a gimmick, runs the risk of being remembered only for the gimmick and not its association with the product. The commercial has performed the important task of holding the audience's attention, but it hasn't spread the word about the product it's trying to promote. While in the era of the Internet, it can be argued that any commercial that makes people want to run a Google search for the company or product's name is a successful one, this trope already existed long before anybody had even conceived of search engines.

German media experts call this the "Vampire Effect"; this was also named on The Gruen Transfer as "Vamping". May happen in a Design Student's Orgasm or Dada Ad. May also happen if overdone sex appeal distracts the viewer from the message.

See also Breakaway Advertisement, Sidetracked by the Gold Saucer, Made of Shiny, Commercial Switcheroo. Contrast The Power of Cheese, which is when the ad gives way too much credit to the product. Compare Our Slogan Is Terrible.

Perfume related products have their own trope, Perfume Commercial. So do medications: Side Effects Include.... For non-indicative movie advertisements, see Never Trust a Trailer.


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    Automobiles & Related 
  • Infiniti's early advertising showed only the brand name and a flock of birds. Nothing to indicate that it was actually promoting a car.
  • A documentary about a newly-launched airline. Because the airline's ad was so non-specific, there were people who came asking them what they actually do.
  • A baby dashing through a darkened hospital before crashing through a wall. The commercial was for the VW Lupo — "Volkswagen's tough little baby".
  • In 2004, Honda began showing an advert on British television, "Grrr". It had a song ("hate something, change something...") sung by Garrison Keillor, who's not well-known in Britain, and was full of bright and surreal imagery. It also had a fun flash game, but it took three or four close viewings before anyone realized that it was a Honda commercial. And it took a trip to the website to realize what the commercial was about.
    • Honda is still doing this with all its adverts, failing to mention a single car or why their cars are better than the rest, only that Honda likes complicated puzzles and skydiving. In the UK, anyway; their US ads tend to be of the "this is the car, this is the deal you can get" variety with the only touch of whimsy being "Mr. Opportunity", a cartoon car salesman surrounded by live-action cars in a live-action showroom.
      • For many people, these adverts are so spectacular they cross the line twice, being so memorable it's hard to forget what they're advertising. Particularly the one which was only shown in full in cinemas (it was two minutes long) where the guy drives a wide variety of Honda vehicles across land and sea whilst singing "The Impossible Dream" and rides up out of a waterfall in a hot-air balloon with the Honda logo at the end. Now that's advertising.
    • A year before "Grrr", Honda also made an ad called Cog. It's a two-minute Rube Goldberg Device culminating in a finished car and the voiceover "Isn't it nice when things just work?" The commercial itself is a masterful achievement; filmed in two takes edited seamlessly together and containing no CGI. But nothing about the commercial itself screams "Honda."
      • A key point of difference between the "Cog" and "Grrr" ads and the more successful "The Impossible Dream" was that the latter had every vehicle and the driver clad in their simple red and white colour scheme, making it so strong through the advert that it acted as much for letting everyone know Honda had this colour scheme as for letting them know that Honda made cars. That helps with brand identification which then helps with recognising further Honda ads which helps allowing further leeway before running into this trope in the future.
    • Honda seems to like to have one of these long feature adverts per year. One of them featured a full choir performing the sounds of a car during its journey, using nothing but their voices. This was, like Impossible Dream and Cog, only shown in full in cinemas (with crowds sometimes joining in the choir's singing).
  • Somebody did a series of wonderful adverts about a car that said you should ask before you borrow it. One had a couple going into a mad passionate clinch over the dinner table, her dragging him upstairs, handcuffing him, and walking off leaving him looking at a note with the slogan on it. Another had a slow breakup song and a woman throwing the man's possessions out of the bedroom window as he came home, looked at the car keys in his hands. The car was the Nissan Micra.
    • The same car brand had an advert directed by David Lynch. About the only thing at all about the ad that anyone got was that they made portmanteaus out of favourable adjectives for cars. People agreed that the advert was very shiny and bright.
  • A 2008 ad promoting Peugeot 308 SW used the usual format for car commercials (people talking, arrows pointing with descriptions) but replacing all language with pure gibberish, except for the line "Drive it and you'll understand". While some of the made-up words became Memetic Mutations ("bloblor", anyone?) very few people can remember which car was publicized.
  • A 1995 British ad depicted a man driving a Jaguar car in the middle of a forest, before stopping, unpacking an air pump, and pumping with a smirk on his face as it is eventually revealed that he is pumping up a blow-up doll. It's an ad for Goodmans car audio systems, but the ad makes no mention of that — it merely calls Goodmans "Britain's second-favourite in-car entertainment".
  • An ad from the mid-2000s had big beasts with headlights and brakes and stuff in a rodeo championship, with one cocky guy falling off and a more careful guy having a perfect ride. Included were herds of these beasts running on the roads and one drinking out of a trough in a gas station. Its point was supposed to be a lecture in SUV safety.
  • In 2001, Audi held an ad campaign about an Elvis Presley impersonator whose car breaks down, so he has to hitchhike. In his car, he had a little Elvis puppet standing on the dashboard, shaking its pelvis when the car vibrates. When he's picked up by a woman driving the advertised car, he puts the puppet to her dashboard, only to see that lil' Elvis doesn't dance anymore — said car goes so softly, there are no more vibrations. Everyone remembers the mascot (which you could buy afterwards). Hardly anyone remembers which car it was for (it wasn't for a car but rather for the multitronic CVT).
  • The fact that so many car ads are like this is parodied by The Symmetrical Breadpazoid here.
  • One ad showed a car zooming along a cliffside road while music reminiscent of a James Bond movie soundtrack plays. No commentary at all. The car pulls into the driveway of a mansion; Patrick Macnee gets out, smiles directly into the camera, and asks "You were expecting someone else?" (The ad was for "Sterling", a short-lived attempt at importing the cars sold by the British brand Rover to the US; it didn't work out, chiefly because they were essentially luxurious versions of Honda models, and Honda had already launched their own luxury marque, Acura, by this point.)
  • An ad for the Kia Soul opens with a shot of a war-torn battlefield, where fighting rages on. Exoskeletons duel for control of a floating island. A soldier is picked up and flung like a ragdoll. Suddenly, a green car drives in. Three hamsters get out. And they dance. They danced to the Party Rock Anthem, no less! A previous Kia ad featuring the same hamsters had them singing a rap version of Weapon of Choice, with "this" being a Kia while "that" was other hamsters driving around in shoes, cardboard boxes, and washing machines instead.
  • A Jaguar ad from the mid-2000s was filmed entirely in black-and-white and showed young, ultra-wealthy people frolicking in the Hamptons to a tasteful soundtrack. The car actually featured in the ad, but more as background filler than an advertised product. It was less about the car and more the lifestyle.
  • Volkswagen released this minute-long commercial for Super Bowl XLVI, which is just a choir of dogs barking the Imperial March from Star Wars with no connection to the actual car aside from the name and slogan at the very end. The Star Wars connection is semi-justified if you remember one of their ads for the previous year, which featured a boy dressed as Darth Vader attempting to use The Force, which ends with his father hitting the ignition button on the keys to let him think he started it. Without that knowledge, the whole thing is completely nonsensical until the name shows up about a minute in.
  • A 2012 commercial begins with someone taking a plate of food out of the microwave as a narrator says "holiday leftovers. There's nothing simpler...unless it's getting the new <car model>" as the commercial goes into full sale mode showing off the cars and talking about them.
  • Fiat has had a tendency for this:
    • One ad for the U.S. market featured several copies of a model driving off cliffs into the ocean. Then they drive back out of the ocean somewhere else, unharmed. Many viewers were unaware that this symbolized the cars being imported to the U.S. from Italy.
    • Another ad had Paul Revere announcing that "The Italians are coming" because a bunch of driverless Fiats are zooming through town, and then everyone throws a party. Most viewers failed to realize the joke was that the new model was "invading" the market.
    • In 1992, Fiat's Spanish division attempted to start a campaign to market the Cinquecento, a new city car model, to unmarried working women in the country. To target this demographic, they used a direct mail campaign by making a list of 50,000 career women, and writing each of them an anonymous, personally addressed "love letter" full of stalkerish lines like "I saw you on the street and knew we were made for each other", that in no way mentioned their car or indicated that it was a marketing campaign. When droves of frightened women filed police reports, believing that they were being stalked, Fiat Spain came clean and cancelled the campaign, which apparently would have included sending a series of similar letters to the same women, which would eventually reveal themselves to be advertisements. Fiat Spain were forced to send apology letters to the recipients, and were fined 155,000 pesetas (about US$1,100) following a lawsuit.
    • An example from Fiat's native Italy, a 2002 commercial involved a woman in her flat, talking on the phone. She's arguing with her boyfriend, and in the end she shouts "I'll go out and date the first man I meet" and hangs up. In another flat, a man is washing dishes and hears all that yelling. When the woman opens the door to go out, the man is there, on her landing, still wearing his apron and rubber gloves, ready to become that "first man". His catchphrase "Buonaseeera" ("Good eeevening") became extremely popular. The ad also had a sequel with the same man and a different woman, and this time the woman said the catchphrase. These commercials were so popular that people started to quote the catchphrase every now and then, the actor was nicknamed "Mr. Buonaseeera", the apron and gloves were auctioned for charity... but the actual advertised product was soon forgotten, and the actual ad motto was forgotten too (the phrase intended to be the motto was "Cogli l'attimo", i.e. "seize the opportunity"/"carpe diem"; it advertised a special price for a Fiat car, a car which never appears in the ads, which were always shot indoors).
  • A commercial that aired in the 2000s in certain markets for the Toyota Yaris had a blonde man in a strange suit named "Uncle Yaris", and the ads would tell you about him; one ad had him at a supermarket check-out taking various things out of his pockets and a banana out of his sock, ending with the tagline "Uncle Yaris can carry a lot." Cars were at no point mentioned in the commercial, nor was Toyota, and viewers who didn't know what a Yaris was were forced to Google the name to find out.
  • Some viewers get so caught up in the Double Entendre of the "You and Your Johnson" video, they overlook the fact it actually advertises outboard motors for boats.
  • The first few Carfax ads had the slogan "We know cars" displayed pretty prominently, but failed to state what their company actually does. What do they know about cars? Do they sell them? Fix them? Later commercials cleared up the mystery.
  • Nicely subverted in a Hyundai advert for Spain. The ad opens with a series of shots of landscapes that wouldn't have been out of place in The Lord of the Rings films, then it cuts to a fairy who looks at the camera and complains that there are too many bells and whistles just to sell a car. The ad focuses completely on the car from then on.
  • A commercial for Autoway Tires. The ad starts with a disclaimer and health warning and then shows a dark, snowy road from the driver's night vision POV, before stopping in front of a woman dressed in white robes... which leads to a horrific Jump Scare. How that is supposed to sell tires is a Riddle for the Ages.
  • This was one of the reasons Isuzu stopped using the infamous Joe Isuzu (played by David Leisure) — though his iconic Very False Advertising made him a pop-culture icon for a time in the late 80s/early 90s, it simply wasn't very effective at actually selling Isuzu cars and trucks. They brought him back briefly in the early 2000s, but soon afterwards ditched him again as Isuzu slowly wound down their US operations.

    Better Living! 
  • In Britain, everyone remembers Nick (Wallace & Gromit) Park's Creature Comforts being used for a series of well-regarded British Gas adverts in the 1990s. Except the adverts were for the Electricity Board, and emphasised how much better electric heating was than gas.
  • Diesel had a series of print ads concerning Global Warming which featured young, beautiful people in the foreground. Viewers didn't really notice the submerged landmarks in the background which were supposed to be the focus. That said, given that the brand is named after a freaking polluting fossil fuel, the concept was bound to fail anyway.
  • General Electric's "Ecomagination" campaign to promote green energy, featuring dancing elephants and rock star cows.
  • One Christian group has a billboard ad campaign with nothing but the line "I Am Second" and a link to their website. Some people can see it's a coded reference to John 3:30 but otherwise it suggests....a sport? A band? An athletics clothing manufacturer?
  • This ad from Canada, for The Salvation Army, features happy music and a girl wearing grungy clothes in a subway station imagining twirling around in a pink dress, swinging on a swingset, and being read a bedtime story being read to her by her mom. Had it not have been for the final shot featuring the tagline and the Salvation Army's logo, you'd have thought it was an advertisement for something totally different. Justified to some degree; the Salvation Army being a charitable group (a church, too, but mostly a charitable organization) with a focus on providing for the poor and particularly poor children, the girl's daydream is what they're "selling".
  • The Foundation for a Better Life commercials that often are shown in American movie theaters and on TV are something of an inversion: they usually depict someone doing a good deed, then say "pass it on..brought to you by the Foundation for a Better Life." Viewers might assume these are trying to sell them on the Foundation, but the Foundation is a nonprofit whose purpose is to encourage people to do more good deeds, meaning that the demonstration of the good deed is the point of the advertisement.
    • Their billboard series takes a similar approach: showing a famous or semi-famous person who overcame some sort of barrier, and admonishing those who see it to "pass it on!"
  • The Atheist Bus Campaign, which ran in the UK at the peak of the New Atheism movement's sociopolitical dominance. The ads demanded that you stop being religious and the links for the people involved are shown in very tiny text, which resulted in the ads confusing many.

    Clothing, Personal Hygiene & Related 
  • These three ads for Gap clothing. The commercials consist of absolutely nothing but 10-20 similarly dressed actor/models in front of a solid white background singing Top 40 tunes while standing absolutely still and looking bored out of their minds. Until they flash the slogan (everybody in leather/vests/khakis) and the Gap logo, they look like the world's laziest music video.
  • A Levi's ad showed two very young teens apparently about to "do the deed for the first time", slowly undressing and talking about being scared and trusting. Then they turn and jump off a pier into the water. What is there to let you know it's an ad for Levi's? A brief logoshot at the very end. That's it.
    • Another series of Levis ads, some running over a minute long, consisted of nothing but unrelated snippets of young people partying outdoors, accompanied by a reading of Walt Whitman's Pioneers! O Pioneers!
  • One of the most surreal ads ever featured a hamster running furiously in his wheel until it breaks and he dies of boredom. It only ran for a short time, and if anybody remembers it today it's for the artificial outrage certain tabloid papers tried to stir up about the portrayal of a dead pet. So what was the product? Levi's.
  • Evidently those ads according to this article "was part of a wider campaign, devised by advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, built around deliberately weird and surreal situations, which hinted toward a vague kind of theme about originality and the importance of thinking outside of the box." Kevin the hamster died because of a failure to think outside the box. Others include Wives and this.
  • Then there were Levi's 80s-era ads. This one is a good example of what you would see — samurai lizards, tiny little anthropomorphic Levi's logos, and a Tarzan knockoff who would always run into trouble. Maybe the thinking was "everybody knows we make jeans, so let's just spend 30 seconds doing weird stuff"?
  • The controversial Nike ad featuring Tiger Woods that began airing shortly before the 2010 Masters. It features a still shot of Tiger's face as he listens to an audio recording of his dead father. Although reaction is mixed on whether the ad is disgusting or brilliant, no one seems to know exactly what the hell the ad is specifically selling. The best guess anyone can come up with is that the ad is promoting the resumption of Tiger Woods as a viable advertising spokesman after the affair scandal that destroyed his marriage in 2009.
  • Compare the amount of people who know about Terry Tate to the amount of people who know that the entire Office Linebacker series was an advert for Reebok.
  • Zig-zagged by Old Spice's The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign. It's weird enoughnote  and gimmicky enough that it risked stepping into this trope's territory — which, indeed, it did. Sales of the specific product being advertised (Old Spice Red Zone After Hours Body Wash) actually dropped slightly after the ads' debut, and most viewers would probably be surprised to learn it was even for a specific Old Spice product. However, it turns out that's not such a bad thing. Sales of the the Old Spice brand as a whole increased by a whopping 150-200%, and (more importantly) Old Spice is no longer thought of as "that aftershave your grandpa wears." One gets the feeling that Procter & Gamble management is currently laughing its way to the bank.
  • Gillette did a razor ad starring Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews III. It's mostly game footage of Matthews with a voice-over about how strong and fast he is, followed by a few seconds of him shaving at the very end.
    • In 2019, they put out a controversial commercial addressing toxic masculinity, depicting a montage of sexist behavior and bullying before encouraging their male customers to be better. It's more of a PSA than an ad for razors or any other Gillette product — though they do play off their slogan ("The best a man can get," which is tweaked into "The best a man can be").
  • A commercial aired with a number of people talking about their mother and the things they do for them. It makes it seem like some commercial for a charity throughout, then by the end of it... Boom. Famous Footwear.
  • On Channel Awesome, the Game Heroes put out an advert for t-shirts. Problem? With all the fanservice like The Nostalgia Critic as a manhandled hostage, Gun Porn and Brad Jones' lampshaded-sexy voice, nobody noticed the actual product.
  • Football fans watching the 2017 Superbowl were likely wondering WTF this commercial had to do with Victoria's Secret. (It's a commercial for lingerie where the models are playing football wearing feminine-looking jerseys. Possibly done as a joke for anyone who was expecting what they usually wore, but still has absolutely nothing to do with the product.)
  • The Rise and Fall of Pete the Meat Puppet is a song about a Meat Puppet brought to life and given a quest to "find that meaning of life". Along the way he ends up as a mascot for a fast food franchise and finds himself everywhere. He gets caught up with the fame and suffers a downward spiral. He eventually loses it all, leaving him nothing to do but continue his quest. That's all well and good, but what is it promoting? It was Diesel, a clothing brand. How was the song relevant to clothes? Well, there's the line, "I was on TV screens, magazines, limousines, and designer jeans," and we see visualizations of all except the last, which showed Pete just singing instead.
  • In Philadelphia, there's a series of highway billboards which are all black with white text which only say "I HATE STEVEN SINGER" without any other information. Turns out the advertisements are for a brand of jewelry called Steven Singer, which is "hated" because it's too great of a dealnote . Too bad most people don't know the brand and the signs can quite easily backfire by discouraging the people who do know it.
  • Italian clothing manufacturer United Colors of Benetton has a well earned reputation for advertisements meant to shock people. Often they also leave you scratching your head about what they have to do with the company's products (they usually have nothing to do with them, other than having the logo somewhere in them). Examples include a poster ad consisting of head shots of real life death row inmates with the words "SENTENCED TO DEATH" over them. Another poster is a photograph of a just born baby with all the goop still on its skin and the umbilical attached.
  • This ad for Japanese general store MUJI has plain white t-shirts floating in the air, with grassy hills, oceans, and cities in the background, set to calming music. MUJI and its tagline aren't shown until the last five seconds.
  • The majority of the ads for the Brazilian shoe store Star's Chic. They show the store spokesperson in various nonsensical situations, then offer screens for shoes, and finally the store logo (with a old SBT jingle playing in the background). In that order.
  • An ad for Jordache Jeans features a group of teens meeting an old man (presumably named Mike) at a park and having fun with him. However, this is interspersed with closeup shots of Mike seemingly in pain, with dramatic music and the voices of the panicked teens trying to figure out what they should do playing in the background. Besides the Jordache Basics logo appearing in both the beginning and end of the ad, not much else is done to link Jordache and the ad together, other than the tagline, "because life... is not."
  • 2-minute Christmas ad from JCPenney about a girl who secretly builds a rocket to the North Pole while overcoming bullies. It ends with all neighborhood cheering for her as she's ready to blast off, the slogan "Today's the day to believe" appears and then JCPenney's logo. Sweet spot, nothing to do with JCPenney though (they are all wearing brand's clothing apparently, but it's not prominent).
  • A 2021 GAP commercial features TikTok creator Nakia Smith speaking in American Sign Language, telling the audience to choose their words carefully and that "We all deserve to be seen and heard." Nice representation, but has nothing to do with GAP clothing. There's more focus on Nakia's hands signing than the clothes she's wearing.
  • SpoiledChild has banner ads in subway stations that display their colorful capsule containers with no indication of what the capsules actually are. One could mistake them for actual pills rather than capsule-shaped shampoo and lotion containers. One poster in this campaign boldly displays their "Getting old is getting old" slogan, but only mentions that they sell anti-aging skin and hair products under that slogan in very tiny text.

    Electronics, Technology, Etc. 
  • Once Upon a Honeymoon. The short film showed off Ma Bells brand-new colored phones, which previously came in one color: black. The lead wishes for different looks for her home — and they appear. The point was "you can now color coordinate your phones with whatever your living space was", but even for the 50's, the point was subtle. Now, to modern eyes, it's just baffling.
  • There was an ad for Microsoft where Jerry Seinfeld sees Bill Gates trying on shoes at a mall shoe store and goes in to help Gates pick out the shoes. When Gates buys them, he produces an ID which features his infamous 1977 mugshot for a traffic violation. They walk out of the mall, with Seinfeld asking Gates if Microsoft is working on edible computers. Cut to the Microsoft logo, end of commercial. It's selling something for Microsoft, but what exactly? It was actually a prelude to Microsoft's I'm a PC ad campaign, which was made in response to Apple's Get a Mac series of ads.
  • An Australian radio ad featured a jingle — a chorus singing "So easy, Clive Peeters..." over and over again. Not once did it mention who or what Clive Peeters was. (An electronics store, in case you were wondering.)
  • Ozzy Osbourne's commercial. That's all anyone knows about it. They know it involves cellphones. And Ozzy Osbourne. But they don't know what it's about anymore. (It's touting AT&T's Samsung Jack.)
  • In 1991, Russian company named Seldom ran this ad. It has the name of the company fading in on a white background and an announcer saying the following words: "Once upon a time, there was a company named Seldom, and it decided to make an ad for itself. Not a simple one, but a very simple one. Like this. *Beat* Seldom company". And that's it. No mention of what this company does, no contact information... Later commercials did establish Seldom as an electronics retailer, but this one could as well be a prime example of this trope.
  • An honestly hilarious commercial where Snoop Dogg wanders around asking various celebrities if they've seen his missing bling, ending with David Bowie...who, when Snoop leaves, takes the bling out with an evil little smirk to the camera. So surreal it's wonderful. The product? XM Satellite Radio.
  • Subversion: One of the most annoying/brilliant commercial ideas ever — get people's (read: men's) attention with the false promise of girl-flesh, then blueball them by saying the only way to find out what was being hinted at is to go to their website. You always knew who the company was. The problem — what did the company do? You might think it was most/least subtle porno site ad ever for the longest time, but they're a website host for non-porn sites only, making their libidinous double-cross even more galling...note 
  • There was a commercial some time back with a little girl standing calmly in a field while a rhino charges at her. As the camera flips from girl to rhino and back, the message "Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation" is displayed a word or two at a time. At the end, the rhino comes to a halt right in front of the girl, who reaches out to gently touch its horn. It was for a telecommunications company; now try and guess which one.
  • Sony brought in David Lynch to direct a series of advertisements for the launch of the PlayStation 2 in Europe. They were surrealist black and white affairs about The Third Place, which is apparently an enigmatic land of play alongside people's work life and home life. There were many jokes about the other meaning of the slogan, but only amongst gamers — Sony had neglected to actually include the console, or any other gaming references, in the advertisement.
    • They repeated the mistake with the PlayStation 3, using a series of adverts styled in the manner of a glossy drama or soap opera set in a holiday resort, and ending with "This Is Living" and the URL "". Non-gamers (and gamers' spouses) thought it was an advertisement for Living TVnote , a UK satellite channel specialising in glossy dramas and soaps. They added a "PlayStation 3" flash at the tail end of the commercials' run, after the machine shuddered, uneventfully, into stores.
    • The PS3's infamous North American launch ads were not much better, which featured such sights as an exploding Rubik's Cube and a sentient baby doll.
    • There was one for the PlayStation that merely showed blood cells shaped like the PlayStation buttons in a microscope. It never even made mention of the name of the product, either.
    • There was another infamously bizarre ad for the PS1 called "Mental Wealth". It featured a Scottish woman whose head had been morphed using CGI going on a philosophical tangent that had nothing to do with the PlayStation, and then laughing.
  • On the subject of consoles, there were the Xbox pre-launch ads, which simply showed a rotating green sphere with various strange noises and non-sequitur dialog from unseen people; at the end of the ad the "X" symbol would open inside the sphere, with the Xbox name and web address fading in below. No indication of what an Xbox was or any affiliation with Microsoft; the ads for the initial launch titles were more straightforward, though.
    • The European launch didn't fare much better, as it featured the infamous Champagne ad (a woman giving birth to a baby which shoots out of a hospital window and rapidly grows old before crashing into a grave) which was banned from UK television after 136 complaints. Another launch ad, Mosquito featured graphic shots of mosquitoes sucking out human blood. Both ads just flash the console's logo and tell the viewers to play, without any other connection to the console or its games. While the third ad, Ear Tennis actually features gameplay and the box art of some games, the beginning (two Chinese men playing table tennis using their stretched out ears as paddles) is just as mind-boggling.
  • Evony. Oh dear God, Evony. Evony is a clone of the old computer game Civilization, which is a classic 4X-style strategy game. It's run, in at best a legally grey manner, out of China. A few of their ads actually show what the gameplay looks like, but at least as many of them show pictures of hot models in their underwear (that the Evony people don't hold the copyrights for) and say things like "play discreetly in your browser". There are some in-between ones where the girls are at least dressed in medieval-type outfits (though that's only one of the many time periods covered), which tend to say things like "rescue the princess" (an element that doesn't exist in the actual game).
    • There's literally an ad that's just a picture of a woman's breasts, with the name of the game in small plain text in the corner.
    • As stated in Evony's page, the sad part is that a lot of similar browser-based games are now employing the same tactics. Some of them aren't even trying to be subtle about it. A similar game, Caesary, had a CG-rendered woman in skimpy clothing with the tagline "One click for a ROMAN ORGY!", before changing it to the tamer "One click for a ROMAN EMPIRE!" some weeks later.
  • Optimum's commercials — apparently, all they're about are some girls singing the number to call and a dude rapping so fast you can't tell a word he's saying half the time. But it's mostly the number song that gets stuck in the head.
  • EDS, a business consultant company, ran a commercial that took the proverb about "herding cats" to a literal level, by featuring a group of cowboys herding cats across a classic Western landscape, commenting on the hazards of the job, and noting how proud it made them when they did their job well. It was well-received, with great effects to make you think you were looking at "ten thousand shorthairs". They even apparently got several cats to swim across a narrow river. The narrator says, at the end, "This is kind of like what we do..." People years later often recall the ad without knowing who it was for.
  • Most of the dot-com ads during Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000 are remembered for being this, such as the E-Trade, WebMD, and ads. Most others tried to subvert it by quickly explaining their company in a voiceover or text, but that Super Bowl, as well as the entire Dot-Com Bubble is often associated with this trope.
  • ran three commercials over the Super Bowl about how they wanted people to remember their logo, so they were doing a particular stunt such as shooting a hamster through the O in their logo (they missed...several times), tattooing their logo on the foreheads on pre-schoolers, arranging a high-school band into the form of their logo, and then releasing the rabid wolverines. People recalling the commercial remember everything but who the logo was for.
  • Old Zune ads. Get a 30-second blip of some unrelated animation, and slap on the Zune logo at the last few seconds.
  • This ad for television provider DirecTV. Ostensibly a commercial about getting the best while saving money — but all anyone really remembers is "OMG ADORABLE MINI-GIRAFFE WANT!"
  • Something rather similar happened to the short-lived UK pay TV channel ONdigital (later ITVdigital), whose main claim to fame was the rather awesome monkey — pronounced "munkeh" — who starred alongside comedian Johnny Vegas in the advertising spots. It's been said that some people signed up with the service entirely to get the free monkey toy that came with the hardware. Monkey himself has outlived the service he was advertising by over a decade, and is now the face of the far better-known PG Tips teabags.
  • That commercial where there's a line of various technologies falling and smacking into one another; a car, phone, SPACE SHUTTLE... but when the last domino falls and hits the product they're touting, you just too busy thinking COOL to remember the name... It was a smartphone right?
  • During the World Cup, there was one very popular Argentine ad to support the national soccer team [1]. It was a 2 minutes footage of very clumsy, out-of-shape and generally bad amateur soccer players, ending up with the slogan "Do your best, for all of us that didn't make it". The ad was brilliant to say the least, since every Argentinian is considered to be a failed soccer wannabe. It was fun, it was heart-warming, it combined perfectly with the urge of the World Cup, and it even included the precious ''notti magiche''. The catch? It was a cellphone advertisement! (Not that anybody noticed.)
  • The ad for the Android Razor looks like a trailer for a movie about a flying razor blade.
  • In summer/fall 2010 the first ad for Monster High was all over channels like Nickelodeon. However, the ad featured a British voice introducing the viewer to the first six characters who were all shown animated and talking a bit about themselves. It told you to go to the website but it didn't explain what the website was like very well. And nowhere in the ad was there any evidence (unless the tiny Mattel logo at the very end counts) that Monster High is a doll line. This is a very, VERY rare example of a toy ad of all things doing this trope.
  • And, of course, the classic: Apple's 1984 commercial, which had little to do with Apple itself.
  • This commercial for Um Jammer Lammy. As one YouTube commenter said:
    Uh, I thought that was lame. I mean You see a pool and a Car drive through it, Wouldn't you think that would be an ad for a racing game?
  • Three launched an ad campaign (that was successful!) of a pony dancing and moonwalking around a field. It became a viral hit with the tagline "Silly stuff. It matters." Now, Three are most well known for being a mobile network provider, but are also an Internet Service Provider and had it not been for "Keep on internetting" at the end, one might've never guessed that it was for broadband as opposed to a mobile network.
  • This is a partial example, as it looks like an ad to encourage girls' interest in STEM subjects, but is actually an ad for Verizon...Verizon's foundation to encourage girls' interest in STEM, that is.
  • The ad for Golden Sun featured creatures coming to life in a theater — in particular, the chandelier turned into a dragon — and being fought off by the orchestra, which has little to do with Golden Sun beyond using general fantasy elements. (The ad was ultimately for the Game Boy Advance hardware itself, with the point of "take your games anywhere; such as to a classical concert!") The funny thing is, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn later went out of its way to recreate this scene, including granting the party the chandelier dragon as a summon.
  • In Spain, mobile phone company Airtel (merged into Vodafone in 2001) launched a Christmas campaign in 1999 that consisted mainly of a kid calling a lot of people and repeating "Hi, it's Edu, merry Christmas", becoming clear at the end that the kid is going through an entire phone book in order to do the calls. The ad became popular in Spain, and the line is still used as a catchphrase to this day, but almost everyone who talks about it fails to remember which company it was for.
  • Mobile Phone Game Mafia City may be one of the greatest cases of deceptive advertising this side of Evony, having gained notoriety for its notoriously bizarre adverts, showing the transformation from a "level 1 crook" to a "level 99 boss" through comical sketches (with some showing a man in a suit proclaiming "That's how mafia works"), which paint the game as a sort of bizarre crime-themed MMO a la Grand Theft Auto Online and 3D graphics with a cartoony aesthetic not unlike Fortnite. In reality, the game is actually a crime-themed Clash Royale clone with all the usual baggage and sprite based with a more realistic style that don't come close to the zaniness promised.
  • In 1999 there was a series of adverts (some more NSFW than others) for the web portal MSN. They were roughly 30-second clips showing bizarre situations, like a lonely worm getting cut in half so it can play ball with itselfnote , an elderly woman being seduced by an alien with a muscular human body and a talking fox getting its revenge on a fox hunter followed by the tagline "Life's great" encouraging you to visit the website.
  • Russian mobile operator Yota did a series of "placeholder" ads — silent TV spots with white text on blue background usually saying "Yota TV ad on ''channel name'' ". Some variations included "Yota TV ad on channel name on Sunday" while airing on Sunday, "Half-screen Yota TV ad" and "Subliminal Yota TV ad" during Simpsons broadcast. Not to mention "Yota ad on billboard near subway station", "Yota ad graffiti on building", you got the point. While some considered them funny and fresh, they don't really explain what Yota is (before turning into typical mobile operator with SIM cards it was a WiMAX internet service provider, you couldn't use it on your phone without purchasing a separate modem or buying a specific phone). Even if you assume everyone knows that by now, they don't explain why it's supposed to be better than competition (and one mobile operator has been doing "we don't spend a lot of money on our ads to give you cheaper service" shtick long before them, Tele 2). Ads were retired after two months.
  • Netflix's "Netflix Is a Joke" ad campaign. The earlier ads in the campaign confused people more than the later ones, which featured celebrities and actually used the Netflix logo.
  • One Japanese 1984 ad for the Macintosh had drawings of women with floating apples above their hands, which begin growing rapidly before covering the entire screen. Then, the ad suddenly cuts to Apple's logo being bitten on as a voiceover says, in English, "Personal Computer. Apple."
  • For the 2020 Super Bowl, there were multiple ads for a company called Quibi. Mostly they were focused on trying to make 'a quibi' a Forced Meme, as a way of saying 'a short time'. This is only vaguely related to what they actually did, which was a streaming service with scripted short form video series. Quibi would be gone by the end of the year, after the amount of subscribers fell below projections.
  • This ad for unlimited AT&T with HBO Max. It's supposed to be about getting people to sign up for one of AT&T's plans and how they'll get HBO Max included with it. The ad features a gimmick in which anytime either of the people in the ad say "HBO Max," HBO Max's sound effect is played. It's so prevalent, however, that most people will probably only remember that gag, except that the ad itself doesn't explain anything about what HBO Max is (a streaming service for WarnerMedia programming) because it's supposed to be mainly an ad for AT&T.
  • This ad in Hong Kong that has impersonators of Trump, Putin, and Kim Jong-un dancing to "The More We Get Together", and has Kim shooting a man out of a missile launcher and Putin fighting a polar bear. It is a phone ad that asserts at the end that this phone lets you Take Over the World, but naturally few people would be focused on the phones at this point.
  • Be Funny Now! developer Jack Douglass put out a billboard to promote the game, which simply read "Your joke here," referencing the "answer the prompt in a funny way" angle of the game while being vague enough to pique interest. The problem was that the billboard only had the game's promotional website in tiny text in the corner, which was unreadable at a distance, especially when covered by a building. Even if the website's URL had been readable, nothing made it clear that Be Funny Now! is a mobile game. Jack noticed in retrospect and regretted this, challenging his fans to design a clearer billboard.
  • This inexplicable 1980s ad for The Legend of Zelda interspersed shots from the game with John Kassir dressed in black randomly flailing around a darkened room and yelling for "Zelda!" in between freaking out about some of the game's monsters while seeming like he's tripping on a cocktail of various highly illegal substances.
  • This bizarre pair of Japanese ads for Final Fantasy IV starring an ostrich. Word of God says it’s supposed to represent a Chocobo (as evidenced by the upbeat tropical rendition of the Chocobo theme the ads use), but even with that context, good luck figuring out what an ostrich has to do with the tale of a knight fighting against the evil empire he once sided with and atoning for the misdeeds he committed under them.

    Food & Drink 
  • The 50s Wilkins Coffee ads are an early example of this; in most of them, the coffee is only visible for about two seconds of an eight-second ad, with the rest of the ad being dedicated to proto-Muppet Wilkins committing acts of cartoonishly over-the-top violence upon his partner Wontkins for not wanting to drink the coffee. Most of them don't even really elaborate on why to drink Wilkins Coffee.
  • Orangina. Because when you think of citrus fruit sodas, you think of CGI Beast Men dancing suggestively. The print ads feature even more blatant furry cheesecake.
  • Drambuie Extraordinary Bar: It might need a second viewing to realize that it’s a whiskey commercial. The product appears many times and it’s the only colored element in the black-and-white world, but the otherworldly visuals draw more of the viewer’s attention.
  • Mountain Dew's live-action versions of the MAD "Spy vs. Spy" comics were technically superb, keeping to the spirit and fun of the source material — and generally failed to make the connection to their product, other than having the victorious spy enjoy a Dew in the final seconds.
  • For a time in the late 1990s, Taco Bell advertised its stores with a talking chihuahua. Often, these ads didn't really mention tacos or Taco Bell until close to the end. Urban Legends that Taco Bell suddenly pulled the chihuahua ads because the dog died were eventually debunked on Snopes. The reason the ads were pulled was quite simple — the ads were cut because while they were massively popular, they simply didn't increase sales at Taco Bell restaurants. Same-store sales were down 6% during the second quarter of 2000; the chihuahua was retired in July 2000.
  • Similarly, the California Raisins were massively popular, even having their own merchandise and animated series, but didn't increase sales of raisins.
  • Mel Brooks did a Captain Ersatz version of his 2,000-Year-Old Man for Ballantine Beer, creating the phrase "There's a party in my mouth."note  He received fan mail saying people loved the ads, but hated the beer, while many others assumed he was doing the original character and didn't get the brewery connection.
  • An early-1990s commercial for a beer which had some beer-drinkers wanting to try something new, be it "Grandpa's Old Fuzzy Ale" or "Benedict Arnold Pittsburgh Lager". Most people probably won't remember the beer which was actually being promoted.
    • Australian beer ads are either a hilarious send-up of adverts in general or filled with Australian in-jokes and parodies stereotypes, though these actually fit well with the Australian beer-drinking culture. One example: A melanoma-ridden alcoholic is involved in a racially-motivated attack.
    • A couple of ads for Labatt's Blue in the late 1990s feature a large group of people coming together and a popular song (the first was a guy serenading his girlfriend with "Sweet Caroline" and people coming out of the woods to join in, and the second a smirking Village People gathering)...because "anything can happen out of the blue." Indeed.
    • Guinness ads tend to come in two flavours — entertaining adverts that are clearly advertising beer, and very artistic adverts. Where the line is tends to be a matter of debate, although the River of Life ones are probably the former and the current Domino Alley ones are probably the latter, but not as far into the latter as some of their ads have gotten in the past.
    • On the other hand, a by now three decades old series of Dutch TV commercials for Grolsch beer, showing craftsmen at work, all of them ending with the slogan "Vakmanschap is Meesterschap (Craftsmanship is Mastery)" has been so recognizable that nearly everyone old enough to have seen them still remembers them and what they were promoting even with just the opening bars of the signature tune.
  • There's a commercial about a cat who lived with a woman. During the night, he leaves and wanders around inside a nightclub. The cat returns to the woman's apartment for the punchline "Have you been out chasing the birds again?" At this point, the logo for Bacardi rum (the silhouette of a bat) is seen, mysteriously dangling from the cat's collar, and the commercial ends. There's some shots of the cat walking around bottles of rum, and a bartender throwing around some bottles, but there's not much information on what the cat has to do with rum. The shorter advert is even more confusing, as it's just the cat dancing around and a bartender throwing a rum bottle around (without much attention given to it being Bacardi specifically).
  • Another British example. Back in the 1970s, there was a very popular series of adverts featuring Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter, which always ended with the advertised drink being poured all over Joan. The catch? Everyone thought they were advertising Martini & Rossi, when the ads were actually for a different but similar drink.
  • Some Snickers commercials count, like Sir Snacksalot. It features the Snickers candy bar with "Sir Snacksalot" in the same font printed on it. You wouldn't know it's for Snickers unless you look at the candy bar that the guy is eating.
    • Snickers also has a weird campaign where the tagline is "you're not yourself when you're hungry, so grab a Snickers", but they only say that at the very last second. Until then, it's just some random celebrity Adam Westing with some schlubs.
      • They then proceeded to avert it in the Mexican versions of the ad by inserting the brand name into the dialogue and showing the chocolate interspliced with the rest of the commercial. It made the flow awkward and the dialogue unnatural, but it hammered the brand onto the customers' heads with so much success that "eat a Snickers" became a temporary catchphrase between young people when someone was being annoying. Then Snickers took it even further by launching Snickers chocolate bars with phrases like "You're being petty", "Hater", "Prissy" instead of the name.
  • This non-Japanese ad where two girls where getting saved from some mean guy and their gym coach by a Godzilla-sized rubber ducky, all done in Japanese. It was for Coca-Cola's Oasis beverage. Somehow, Rubber Duckzilla was meant to connect to the tagline "For people who don't like water". Their first ad with this tagline was about a girl and her Cactus boy lover eloping. Presumably the cactus boy is meant to not need a lot of water and so would for some reason prefer not to drink it and the rubber duck...floats?
  • The Messin' with Sasquatch commercials have little, if anything, to do with Jack Link's itself, only briefly mentioning it at the beginning and end of each commercial, with the humans carrying a bag of Jack Link's with them and eating some before pranking Sasquatch.
  • The Great American Soups ad, the most expensive TV ad ever at the time (featuring top-of-her-field tap dancer Ann Miller and a complete Busby Berkeley Number), was hugely popular and extremely effective at getting people to buy soup. Unfortunately, the ad didn't manage to impress the brand name (Heinz) on buyers; they bought the familiar Campbell's brand instead. Some videos of the ad mistakenly attribute it to Campbell's!
  • Gatorade had an ad campaign that (presumably) parodied this. The entire video was grayscaled and had various people scroll past doing random hand motions. It ended by saying "What is G?", never once coming close to mentioning the product.
    • The ad campaign also featured a series of faces ending in the "G" logo with no mention of Gatorade. It wasn't until well into the campaign that they used the faces of recognizable athletes.
    • This campaign was made in the middle of a major rebranding, and anyone vaguely familiar with the product would probably have guessed Gatorade, so this was likely done to raise interest and draw attention to the revamped packaging (with a new "G" logo) and a new focus (hardworking athletes, eventually tying into the subsequent "Win from Within" slogan and "Prime/Perform/Recover" schtick, plus the changed names).
  • There was a British campaign which featured surreal little vignettes, ending with a picture of a soft drink can and words like "Hypno", "Chas", "Legitima", "Appe", "Trauma", "Bap", and "Dogma". Turns out they were for a drink called..."Tizer". Get it?
  • For years, Swedish grocery store chain ICA has run a series of sitcom ads that take place in an ICA store with a recurring cast of characters. While the commercials themselves are very popular, and the characters are familiar to most TV-watching Swedes, the viewers would be hard pressed to mention a single product that has been advertised. This is mostly due to the way the ads consist of comedy shorts that very rarely mention the products in the dialogue, simply zooming in on them and showing their price but simultaneously distracting the viewers with humoristic dialogue. This is somewhat excusable, since ICA's primary purpose is to get you into the store, rather than to buy the product featured in the ad. They don't much care whether you buy the bread that's on sale — although they'll include it, since a few people will notice — but rather whether you remember the name of the store and thus choose to go there to do your shopping.
  • "WAZZAAAAAAAAAAAAAP!!!" It's easy to forget that this 1990s Catchphrase came from a Budweiser commercial because it overshadowed the presence of beer in the commercial.
  • The Cadbury ads featuring a gorilla drumming to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" fact you wouldn't have realized Cadbury too quickly, sans the logo at the beginning and the purple background. Nevertheless, the ads were a huge hit and "In the Air Tonight" even re-entered the charts. Then they came back with the eyebrow dancing one...
  • A series of ads for Starbucks began with a text screen explaining that the flavor and the emotions and ideas it is supposed to evoke, and compare it to something else that evokes those things, then they show someone talking at length about it. For example, the Italian Roast flavor, "like a classic scooter", was supposed to capture "the romance and spirit of the sweet life", and the commercial then focused on a woman talking about what she likes about scooters and why people are drawn them. The people shown in these segments do not mention Starbucks, Starbucks is not shown in their segments, even in the background, and except for the opening and closing text linking the ideas, the things they are doing have nothing to do with coffee.
  • This Brazilian ad shows us how "the giant (Brazil) is no longer asleep" and features special effects that seem to come straight from a Michael Bay movie. It's an ad for whisky.
  • An ad for V8 Fusion juice consists of a carrot looking at himself in the bathroom mirror, and a voice over describing a moisture cream made from banana extract, "so you can smell and taste like bananas", and going like your typical shaving commercial complete with a female character feeling his chin. Cut to another carrot watching it as a commercial on TV and mentioning he wants some of the product. Cue tag-line "all vegetables want to taste like fruit".
  • The Cherry Coke ads in the late '90s, which showed teenagers doing various ridiculous things, followed by giant words flashing on the screen saying "Do something different."
  • This commercial is pretty clever for its use of the buttered cat paradox, but you wouldn't know it was a "Flying Horse" commercial unless you paid attention to the split-second shots near the end or stuck around for the brand card at the end.
  • A few people are sitting around in a waiting room. Suddenly, a guy in a duck costume comes in, and starts playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Then, a guy in a goose costume walks in. The duck suddenly shouts "GOOSE!" and tackles said goose for the amusement of all. So, what were they selling? Vitamin water. The only chance you would know is if you heard the blurb at the start mentioning the product and the duck sampling it at the end shot.
  • Coke Zero's It's not your fault commercial seems to advertise some World of Warcraft-esque MMO game far more than the beverage it wants you to buy.
  • Carl's Jr/Hardee's is notorious for commercials that advertise their hamburgers with Erotic Eating; the product is clearly visible, but isn't what most viewers focus on. Averted as of April 2017, in which the heads of CKE Enterprises admitted these commercials were not increasing sales and switched the focus to fictional CEO Carl Hardee Sr. and his egotistical college-age son, Carl Hardee Jr. These have a lot more focus on the foods being advertised than before: Each commercial is about how one Hardee or the other came up with the menu item, with the exception of their introductory commercial. That one in turn lampshades this trope by explaining that Senior left Junior in charge of the company, who proceeded to make those commercials with the half-naked women and run it into the ground, requiring Senior to take the company back and steer it back to its intended purpose of selling hamburgers.
  • A Thailand commercial shows a woman somehow increasing her bust size using her "love handles". What's the product? Iced tea. (This one is banned in the United States for obvious reasons)
  • Kit-Kat used to love playing its obnoxious jingle over every commercial. For whatever reason, though, come The New '10s they decided that the jingle had to go...but kept the melody. So now their commercials consists of people eating Kit-Kats (or doing Kit-Kat-related activities, like you do), all to the beat of the melody. The problem is that at this point there's a good chunk of the population that's never heard the original jingle, so the rhythmic crunching is foreign to them. To the uninitiated, the commercials end up becoming nothing more than a random series of images followed by the Kit-Kat logo tagged onto the end.
  • In 2013 there was a great commercial for some art colle— oh wait, it was for Absolut Vodka. Aside from a single blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot near the beginning, the vodka doesn't appear until the last 10 seconds of the minute-and-a-half commercial (and even then its easy to miss). Its particularly amusing since it really would make a great commercial for a prestigious art school, but as it stands it almost seems to say "drink Absolut, and you'll have LSD-like hallucinations"...
  • In the UK a series of TV ads appeared for months showing restaurant chefs waylaying home cooks and preventing them from cooking. The ad would finish with the slogan "DON'T COOK! JUST EAT!" (or slight variations). Turns out that they are a website that allows you to order takeaway dishes on-line from a variety of restaurants. Who knew?
  • There's the infamous "Wonder Boner". For the record, it's a device that (supposedly) makes it easier to remove bones from fish so that said fish are safer to eat. Of course, these days, people are too busy giggling at the Double Entendre name rather than remembering the actual product.
  • In 2007, a Canadian gas station store chain called Mac's launched the appropriately-named "WTF?" campaign to promote its new Froster beverage of the same name. One ad begins with two lesbians in white pajamas lurking by a tree in a forest teasing each other before beginning to make out — before it turns out that the tree is actually the legs of a giant man who is watching them make out. The girls respond by throwing axes into the tree, while the tree-man begins to grunt in excitement and then leak out the drink in question, to which the girls get cups out for and drink.
  • In 1997, Sprite ran two spoof ads for a fake brand of soft drinks called "Jookie." The first poked fun at the extravagant claims advertisers make about the benefits of their product (if you drink Jookie, you'll suddenly be transported to the most awesome beach party EVER!!!). The second poked fun at the often useless mail order prizes advertisers use as bait for their products ("Jookie Junk"). The commercials made no mention of Sprite until its logo was shown in front of a black background at the end.
    • They did this one more time a year later with "Sun Fizz," this time spoofing the use of cartoons to attract consumers.
  • Every year around the Thanksgiving/Christmas timeframe, TVs are flooded with little vignettes of happy families being happy, usually involving food: eating meals with relatives, baking cookies, etc. At the very end of each, there's a brief mention of some grocery store.
  • Want to sell a novelty glass shaped like a boot? Call it "Das Boot", get someone with a hilariously fake german accent to stuff various food and drinks in it while acting like every Camp Gay stereotype ever. Downplayed Trope, because at least most of the ad is about using the glass, and they had enough self-awareness to include a joke about how utterly ridiculous the whole thing was at the end.
  • An ad for Lunchables Kabobbles TV lunches showed a jackalope and platypus calling each other "mixed up" to parallel the ability to "mix up" the food in the lunch. Soon the two animals appeared in commercials doing things like jazzercise, pottery, sneaking into a fancy restaurant, or wrestling a luchador, and the only connection to the product is a bystander calling the situation "mixed up" while eating or giving the animals Lunchables.
  • During the height of Max Headroom's popularity, the titular (fake-)CGI head was used in a Coca-Cola TV commercial in which Max angrily interrogates a can of Pepsi about its inferiority. Essentially, this was a Coca-Cola advertisement in which a can of Pepsi was given a lot of screen time. Naturally, lots of people watching the commercial thought it was for Pepsi, and lots of others thought it was promoting the Max Headroom TV show, far more than the people who correctly identified it as a Coca-Cola commercial.
  • There was once a 1950's magazine ad showing a Del Monte ketchup bottle, with a surprised woman saying, "You mean a woman can open it?". Said ad is commonly used nowadays as a symbol of outdated advertising and casual sexism in the 1950's. However, the ad was actually advertising Alcoa Aluminum's new bottle caps, not Del Monte.
  • K-Fee's mid-2000's ads. Peaceful setting followed by a sudden Jump Scare. The only connection to the product is the tagline and the showing of the brand name at the end of each ad.
  • A Brazilian commercial became famous for this. It featured the life of a boy as he grew up, from being born in a bathtub, being breastfed (close up shot and all), to becoming a teen falling in love and then being cheated on (making him a rebellious teen in the process), to him finally becoming an adult and moving away from his parents and into a new home. Then towards the end, it's finally revealed what the ad was for... Subway sandwiches. Most viewers on social media were completely taken off guard by The Reveal.
  • Hungry Days is a series of animated Japanese ads for Cup Noodles, consisting of short High School AU pieces based on popular anime, with the ad often just tacked on at the end as if it were photoshopped over the actual art, or sometimes just showing one still frame of a character holding a Cup Noodle noodle cup.
  • The Scarecrow only reveals itself to be a Chipotle ad until the last few seconds. It otherwise seems like an animal welfare-themed short.
  • The controversial ''Ebaines?'' commercial for Greek fast food chain Goody's Burger House spends almost all of its runtime at addressing social themes such as sexual obsession, homophobia, respect for the people with special needs, and bullying, with actual burgers making cameos at the beginning and the end of it.
  • Crossed with Phony Newscast for a 1994 example, when a now-defunct brand of Chinese alcohol, Sibuxiang (named for a nickname of the Père David's deer), ran an advert that claimed that a mythical beast with the same name as the brand was going to attack the Northern Chinese city of Taiyuan. Many viewers panicked, believing it was a real Emergency Broadcast, failing to notice that the message had ended with the phrase, "Plotted by Jinxin advertising." Plans for later advertisements to launch a planned contest asking people to guess what the product was were halted when the Chinese government fined the advertising agency as a result.
  • Budweiser's 2016 ad campaign in which they attempted to sell people Bud Light by... having Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer lecture the audience about social issues like gay marriage and the wage gap. The point they were apparently struggling to was that Bud Light doesn't discriminate and costs the same no matter your gender. Most people didn't really get the connection, and those who did thought it was a Clueless Aesop. Budweiser ultimately canned the campaign mere months after its debut, as their sales of Bud Light actually fell.
  • This commercial shows a bride abandoning her wedding in a car while a voiceover tells her "He's got the cash, he's got a condo, he's got a car, he's got a career, but that still doesn't mean he gets you." The product is Wrigley's gum. Nobody in the ad even chews gum.
  • This Chinese ad (with English subtitles) for 7 Up starts with someone stealing a bottle and going into a Butterfly of Doom scenario that ends up with aliens blowing up the Earth and a time-travelling You Can't Fight Fate plot afterwards.
  • The "Stories of Evergreen Hills" Chic-fil-A campaign. Every Christmas season since 2019, the company has released animated short films about children who travel to a magical alternate universe and learn to turn misfortune into something memorable. There is no mention of chicken or any other Chic-fil-A product, and until the logo flashes at the very end, it's easy to mistake it for an independent animation.
  • "¿Dónde está Katia?" (Where is Katia?) was a series of ads aired in Mexico in 2005, which started off as a series of mysterious and ominous ads featuring an abandoned car, empty houses, unanswered doorbells, and eventually a woman running across an airport runway while a narrator asks the titular question, before announcing that the answer would be revealed on Feburary 22nd. The final ad, which aired on that date, features Katia running to stop an airplane from leaving with her loved one, only to find out she's stopped the wrong plane. The narrator then says, "Need to digest it better?", as the actual product is revealed to be Bimbo Bread's new whole wheat bread. Needless to say, if you didn't catch the final ad, you could be mistaken into thinking that this was a campaign for a TV series or a movie that never came out, as many people who recalled the ads did in the years afterwards.
  • Online banner ads for Loyalty Roast coffee feature a shot of a package of the stuff with a dog on it against a background with another image of the same dog. As the coffee packaging looks similar to a bag of dog food, one could easily assume the product itself is some kind of dog food and not coffee if not paying attention.
  • Do you feel like Chicken Tonight? A highly memorable jingle (from 1992) that never ever leaves your head, and you completely forget that "Chicken Tonight" is a pasta sauce product from Ragu intended to be cooked with the chicken. The ads might have sold more chicken than sauce.

  • As early as the 1960s, this commercial with the catchphrase "Mamma mia, atsa one spicy meatball!" was discontinued, not because it was offensive to people of Italian heritage, but because viewers couldn't remember exactly which Italian-food brand it was advertising — probably because it was actually advertising Alka Seltzer, an indigestion remedy!
  • The original Claritin commercials involved bright, beautiful scenery and happy music. They were very uplifting and memorable, at least at the time...yet what they actually were selling remained a mystery for some time.
  • A lot of ads for feminine hygiene products used to be this way — usually a woman clad in a diaphanous gown walking along a beach somewhere trailing her feet in the water and letting the wind blow through her hair. At the end, there'd be a brief logo for Maxipad or whatever and some innocuous tagline like "Maxipad: just because". These days, what with the feminist movement and all, commercials for these products (and ED) are a bit more upfront about these the point that the "U line by Kotex" campaign parodied the "old method" hard.
    • One example of sanitary napkins... er... sanitized is a(n in)famous series of print ads from the late 1940s through the mid 1950s featured gorgeous paintings of glamorous women in fancy dress, with tagline "Modess. Because." The reader can be forgiven for asking, "Because what?" See many of the ads here.
  • HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead. HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead. HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead. (It once had normal commercials with people talking about it relieving their headaches, but they soon had to stop making claims about its headache-relieving properties — specifically, it having any at all, as the "active" ingredient is homeopathic {it's mostly wax} — to avoid legal trouble. Further ads had testimonials with various people saying things to the effect of "your commercial is so annoying, but you've got a great product." Why it's great, as always, cannot be elaborated upon or else. A whole line of products followed, all telling you that from the makers of HeadOn there is now whateverOn; apply directly to your X. None of them ever actually state that anything will happen if you do.)
  • One Pantene commercial is about five minutes long and shows a story about a deaf Asian girl who wants to learn how to play the violin. Fighting past a girl bully and having her violin broken, she gets onstage at a concert and plays a song so well that it gets a standing ovation. And the violin has been taped back together. The Pantene logo and the caption "Shine" appear at the very end. Up until that point, the only hints this was a shampoo commercial were the many lingering shots of the girl's luscious black hair — you could easily mistake it for a music academy, or a school for the deaf, or even a movie trailer.
  • Lunesta is a brand of prescription sleep aid. Their original commercials had people falling asleep, a beautiful, glowing luna moth flying around, and a voiceover telling you to talk to your doctor to learn more. Later commercials have the same moth flying in front of a black background, and the words "follow the wings." That's it. The words "Lunesta", "insomnia", or even "sleep" never appear.
    • Later Lunesta ads (in Canada, at least) have the luna moth tucking people in, with a voice-over talking about Lunesta's effects.
    • Some US Lunesta commercials may be intentionally invoking this trope to mitigate disclosure laws. The ads feature a glowing moth flying around while a voice talks very fast about all the horrible side-effects that can occur (you know, Death, Sudden Irreversible Brain Failure, that sort of thing). "Don't pay attention to what we're saying! Look at the pretty butterfly instead! Oh, and: Lunesta."
      • Under U.S. law, if the ad does not mention the name of the drug or say what the drug is intended to treat, the ad does not have to include the required disclaimer (listing side effects, warnings, etc.).
    • Their newest ad features numerous moths flying from houses at night, and then zooming out to show entire cities (and eventually, the entire continental U.S.) glowing in their green color. But the kicker? Aside from mentioning that its "brought to you by Sunovion" (the drug's manufacturer, a very unfamiliar name to those who don't use it), the ad contains no reference to sleep or even Lunesta at all, and instructs viewers to "join us" at However, the expectation for this campaign is for its users to put the pieces together, as the site contains additional resources and services as a companion.
  • There was a series of commercials showing people scaling cliffs and overcoming other obstacles, with the last shot showing the word "Zyrtec" carved into stone or otherwise worked into the scenery. At the time (before you could just Google things like this) people genuinely wondered and debated what Zyrtec was. It was actually an allergy medicine.
  • Some years ago a new drug was on the market. The ad featured shots of a nurse in a maternity ward, as she lovingly blanketed, diapered, fed, weighed, and cuddled various adorable babies, or brought them to their parents to do the same, as the announcer read a list of side effects and urged viewers to "ask your doctor if [blah] is right for you!" They do not mention what the drug is for; but you can guess it's a fertility drug, right? Wrong — it was for migraines.
  • One ad had a very hyper middle-aged man on his way to work, to the tune of "Good Morning" from Singin' in the Rain. He bounces down the footpath, past the white picket fence, past the postie and neighbours, hops down the hop skip and jump game, slam dunks a basketball, dances past Mario’s barber’s shop, bounds up the stairs from the train, chases the pigeons, leap frogs the Journal newspaper, and cartwheels up to the front door of his office. At no time during this is any category of product mentioned (hint: they're selling medication). Only at the end is there a freeze-frame of the word Viagra. You can probably guess the use for the product now, but this ad aired long before Google was a thing.
    • Cialis also had an infamous ad campaign from about 2009-2011 which had a couple holding hands while in separate bathtubs without ever directly saying what Cialis does.
  • On that note, Levitra (another ED pill) had an ad where a guy throws a football at a tire and hits the edge a few times before ultimately throwing it straight through the middle. That's it, that's the visual representation you get. Comedian Russ Meneve joked that he once took Levitra for a pick-up football game because of the ad: "Long story short, I got tackled and my penis snapped in half."
  • Some ads for a then-prescription only drug in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s talk about finding the right time, finding that special someone, or “getting in and getting out.” Turns out, they’re all for Rogaine. And then there’s this Rogaine ad, which uses Circular Reasoning at its finest: men have heard of Rogaine, men have heard of minoxidil, but men don’t know that only Rogaine has minoxidil, and (at the time) only your doctor could prescribe Rogaine. No mention is given as to what it’s used for, but these ads were from before the FDA decided to relax drug advertising laws.
  • This commercial by Mylan (now Viatris) for the EpiPen from 2016, shows a woman breaking out in welps, before becoming short of breath, effects of Anaphylaxis, the condition that their product protects against without naming the product in question, only referring to it as a prescription medicine, before displaying a website for their company.

    Home Products 
  • A decidedly NSFW example from Germany — hardware store chain Hornbach had commercials for wooden ceiling panels that showed a couple getting busy, with the man suddenly staring distractedly past the woman and up at the ceiling, mouthing his discontent with the panelling. Due to a hugely successful comedy act by Michael Mittermeier ("stop the ad, I want to see them fucking again"), the word "Holzdeckenlamellen" has become incredibly funny in the right circles...but nobody ever seems to remember what company the commercial was for in the first place. One could also mention that Hornbach has a history of either totally-out-of-the-way ads like this and so-straightforward-it's-totally-out-of-the-way as having Blixa Bargeld just read the catalogue (in a dramatic fashion).
  • The live-action 1956 short Once Upon A Honeymoon is supposed to be selling new models and colored variations of telephones (to match any decor). Good luck trying to figure that out without anyone telling you, though. In the words of the confused hosts of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (whose commentary can be viewed here):
    "Wait a minute, what the hell was that about, anyway?"
    • Also familiar to fans of MST3K is Young Man's Fancy, which is apparently supposed to be selling kitchen appliances. Non-riffed version here.
  • There was a wonderfully memorable commercial one Christmas for Lowe's, featuring a little kid stumbling down the stairs scrubbing his eyes and tells his dad that he can't sleep. Dad responds that he's just nervous about the big day, escorts him down the dark hallway, opens the door to show light just pouring out and a room bright as day from all the Christmas lights. Not one mention of Lowe's until the logo flashes up at the end.
  • John Lewis, a British retailer, has been known for their eye-catching adverts. One ad focused on growing up, looking more like a life insurance advert than one for an upmarket home products store. Another ad from 2012 told the story of a couple who have a relationship despite the fact her half of the screen is in The Roaring '20s and his is in The New '10s, with John Lewis' wares getting little-to-no-mention. Their Christmas adverts at least include the concept of buying things.
  • Master Lock's one second ad. Some people know it's from their famous sniper ad, but to others, it's just a lock being shot then the logo, leaving people to think what they just saw.
  • In 1985, there was an infamous Japanese Kleenex commercial which featured a young woman playing with a kid dressed as an ogre, with the beautifully haunting "It's a Fine Day" sung in the background. Since most Japanese didn't understand English, many thought the song's lyrics were a German curse and urban legends told about the misery and deaths plaguing the actors who played the kid and woman (in reality, Japanese actress Keiko Matsuzaka, who is still alive today). Another ad released the same year which had a kid playing an angel also had an urban legend surrounding it as well.
  • In The '80s, a series of 24 commercials aired on channels aimed towards women, such as Lifetime, called Intimacies. These ads had a monologue which wouldn't be unlike programs being aired in those channels, with the exception of the product's name only being tacked on at the very end. As the main focus was on the monologues and not the products, this trope was bound to happen:
    • One ad for Combat Roach Control System features a guy sitting in an armchair going on a strange When I Was Your Age... speech.
    • Another ad for Pine-Sol had a daughter arguing with her mom about her boyfriend.
    • Yet another for Caltrate has a nervous woman having a conversation with her boss, but she's relieved to hear that she's done a good job and her boss expects a new report soon.
  • One Whirlpool ad from the 70's, seen on the most popular recording for The Star Wars Holiday Special features nothing but an eagle flying around for a solid minute while a voiceover talks about how American standards are being threatened. The voiceover promises that Whirlpool appliances are held to these high standards, but there's so much emphasis on Patriotic Fervor that they never show the product at all; they seem to be riding on "Buy our product or you hate America!"
  • In the UK, domestic stairlift manufacturer Churchill's attempted to overcome Stannah's overwhelming prominence in the stairlift market by mounting a campaign featuring the actress Thora Hird, complete with the tagline "Churchill's - The Name To Trust". It didn't work: mention Thora Hird to anyone who was around at the time, and they'll bring up her "adverts for Stannah Stairflifts". Meanwhile few people noticed when Churchill's went out of business a few years later.
  • This ad for the Argentinian print production company Type & Magic which gained infamy online. The only connection to the products being sold (photocopying) is the theme of the ad (one guy armed with a gun not liking surprises, and thus getting revenge on the pranksters of a Candid Camera Prank show by shooting them).
  • Radio ads for doors constantly repeated their “don’t think twice, call Geiess” slogan, while only one mentioning what they’re selling and never giving a number to call.
  • The 2022 ad for Cambria quartz countertops shows a sizable amount of generic nature footage and clips from their medieval fantasy short film called Legend of Cambria, which includes a fire-breathing dragon. While they do show quite a few quartz countertops, the ad never actually says out loud what they're selling.

  • Dutch insurance company Centraal Beheer is famous for its advertisement catchphrase "Even Apeldoorn bellen" ("Just call Apeldoorn", Apeldoorn being the city in the Netherlands where their head office is); they've used the phrase for over a decade, but people tend to forget which company it is. Then again, there's only one insurance company with their head office in Apeldoorn so that's okay.
    • A second, less successful company coined the catchphrase "Foutje, bedankt!" ("Mistake, thanks!") which reached meme levels for a few months, except that nobody has an inkling who or what it was supposed to be advertising. This campaign was quickly dropped once the ad agency clued in.
    • Yet another used the catchphrase "Gelukkig heb ik meer verstand van verzekeren (Luckily, I know more about insurance)". This was an insurance broker visiting people at work, then asking if he could try his hand at what they were doing (usually something very specific and involved), going ahead more or less without their acknowledgement, and pulling it off successfully. His closing line, as he hands back the tools, controls, car keys, whatever, is "Gelukkig heb ik meer verstand van verzekeren". Again, no-one remembers the insurance company.
  • The AFLAC duck, at the end of it you know that there's AFLAC and there are ducks...but at least ducks aren't acronyms. note 
    • AFLAC is getting a little better. "If you are hurt and can't work, it won't hurt to miss work."
    • They always mentioned what they do (supplemental insurance), but most viewers don't take their focus off the duck.
    • One AFLAC commercial in Japan features a woman having a tea party with the duck and a cat. What this has to do with life insurance, we're not sure.
    • Later AFLAC commercials also feature the "Major Medical" pigeon, but it's not entirely clear whether he's competing or cooperating with the duck, or really why he's there at all.
    • The duck is cooperating with him, according to the people in the ad, but by the time the duck starts breakdancing you can be forgiven for forgetting the message in your sudden desire to see the duck fed to an alligator.
    • In 2019, the company even put out commercials where people know what AFLAC is, but not exactly what it does.
  • The GEICO commercials are no better. They have a gecko, a caveman, a wad of bills with googly-eyes glued to it, and a Rod Serling-esque guy. Just pick a mascot and stick with it, already!
    • Geico's gotten a little better about this lately, but their ads still don't really have anything to do with car insurance. All most people can recite are "Geico can save you 15% or more on car insurance" with "Can GEICO really save you 15% or more on car insurance?" and then acting out various idioms and turns of phrase literally (for example, showing woodchucks chucking wood, having three people attempt to tango, etc).
    • Geico's advertisements do succeed at the crucial thing — you'll always remember them as Geico, and that you could save 15% on car insurance by switching.
      • Unless you take a moment to get a quote from them. Of course, the key word in the advertisement is could, not will.
    • Sometimes, the little pig from one of the above commercials about idioms has been seen doing extreme sports like street luge and ziplining with no connection whatsoever to Geico till the end.
    • Another later mascot — two guitar players asking 'how much people save' with something inane and stupid in the beginning. Such as 'Happier than a Witch in a Broom Factory'.
    • Geico rolled out a line with the catch phrase "It's what you do," which also generally has no connection whatsoever to their insurance. One of these is a Call-Back to the camels on the Hump Day commercial they did, which is unfortunately represented simply with a group of people harassing camels in a zoo by shouting the lines from that commercial at them.
    • The"yard sale" ad is especially bad about this one. The main advertisement itself literally says nothing at all about insurance and isntead just shows the gecko having a yard sale, but being reluctant to actually sell anything. The insurance bit only comes at the end with a five-second message from an unseen announcer saying that with Geico it's easy to save on homeowner's and renter's insurance, with the name of the company flashed on-screen. If you had the T muted or weren't paying attention to this bit, there would be absolutely no way to know this ad was about insurance if you weren't already familiar with the gecko.
  • State Farm's hands aren't completely clean here — to go by their 2010-2011 ad campaign, saying their slogan out loud will cause sensitive, rebellious, lantern-jawed guys to appear and sit on your car. There may be something in there about coverage or some shit, but who needs that when you can spawn chunkheads (and Bob Barker!) from thin air? Also, apparently, saying their slogan summons a State Farm agent from thin air so you can get anything you want — that has nothing to do with insurance coverage.
    • This ad from State Farm has a robot man click on a "I'm not a robot" button before being denied access, making him shriek. This ad makes no sense unless you've seen their earlier ads, which had the robot man working for a Shoddy Knockoff Product of State Farm, who uses real human agents instead.
  • The General's auto insurance commercials have a cartoon General and a silent penguin sidekick (and in later commercials, NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal). Most questions about The General concern why there's a penguin in these commercials.
  • Progressive commercials usually avert this by having the characters explain the tools they offer in the ads, but there's a few that lean more towards being 30-second sketches that just briefly mention an insurance gimmick. For example, there's an ad where some stereotypical office characters discuss how generic they are, only briefly mentioning that they want Progressive's "Name Your Price" tool without explaining why.
    • With their commercials moving further and further out of the Progressive store setting, focusing more on characters like Flo's friends or that talking box, their ads are becoming less clear about exactly what they provide. They'll mention their "home and auto bundle" maybe once, and indicate that it'll save money, but they won't explain much further, making that phrase almost as meaningless to the audience as Geico's "15 minutes" slogan.
    • The "sign" commercials just have a guy with a sign that says "Drivers who save with Progressive save over $750 on avg." and don't really explain anything other than that. One commercial just has the sign spinner's dad hold the sign while the sign spinner tries on pants in a fitting room; they don't mention insurance at all until the seven-second ending narration, and just expect the audience to read the (admittedly quite prominent) arrow the dad's holding.
  • AllState:
    • A 2020 ad which is basically just people Fanboying over their spokesperson, Dennis Haysbert and saying to each other, "Look, it's Safe Drivers Save 40%!"
    • There's another 2020 ad that shows a woman waking up in bed as upbeat music plays, and then she rolls out of bed, taking the bedding with her and proceeds to roll out of her house and down the street in an ever-increasing ball of stuff that she picks up as she rolls. The ad is for home insurance, but it looks more like some sort of ad for Katamari Damacy.

    Money & Money-Related 
  • One infamous ad for Nuveen Investments (a company The Other Wiki describes as "a global provider of investment services to institutions and high-net-worth investors in the asset management industry", which probably means either a stockbroker or a hedge fund) that aired during the Super Bowl XXXIV took place 20 Minutes into the Future, where man had cured AIDS, cancer, and spinal cord injuries, then showed Christopher Reeve, aided by CGI, getting out of his wheelchair and walking. There were massive protests from those who didn't pay attention to the premise of the commercial and felt lied to afterward.
  • The Pets.Com commercial mascot, a talking sock puppet dog, managed to outlive the very company he was invented to advertise and now hawks, of all things, cheap car loans.
  • E* Trade came out with an ad about a man being wheeled through an emergency room who had an unusual medical condition — he had money coming out the wazoo. The point of the ad was that, unless you had the same "problem", you should consider their services.
    • Another E* Trade ad lampshaded this trope with a Super Bowl Special spot that was 30 seconds of two guys clapping their hands in time while a monkey danced on top of a bucket. They closed with the line "Well, we just wasted two million bucks. What are you doing with your money?"
    • A couple other E* Trade ads started with a Commercial Switcheroo, before cutting to a man watching the ad at home, who then uses E* Trade to sell his stock in the fictional companies behind the ads (one was for a new drug with some weird side effects; the other was for a cheesy as hell action film called Blow'd Up with Anna Nicole Smith and George Takei(!)).
  • This YT ad for the broker TeleTrade, which just features a team of step-dancers performing an impressive number while providing business suit fanservice.
  • The "Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman" series was deliberately designed like this. They were supposed to be promoting American Express credit cards, but said cards were only used once or twice per short (each of which ran for five minutes) while the rest of the time was Jerry and Superman talking about nothing.
  • A 2003 commercial for Visa Check Card, starring Yao Ming ("Can I write a check?" "Yo!" "It's YAO.").
  • This commercial uses lots of cute fuzzy bunnies at a fair sweet music to advertise the New York Lottery.
  • A series of ads made in the 1990s for Union Bank of Switzerland consisted entirely of mood-lit celebrities, including Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley, performing readings of classic poetry (including "If" by Rudyard Kipling and "Ozymandias" by Percy Shelley, with the name of the bank only briefly appearing in text at the beginning and end.
  • Subverted in spades in the commercials made by John Cleese for De Postbank. He is out on the street asking bystanders who invariably tend to know nothing about Giroblauw (De Postbank's payment product), and getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of positive responses; he's been told everyone in The Netherlands uses it or at least knows about it (quite true at the time, actually). Cleese: "Do you use Giroblauw? (say yes or I'll break your arm)". Person, taken aback: "No, but my wife does." Cleese, switching to female at person's side: "So, you use Giroblauw?". Female: "I'm not his wife, I'm his sister." There were longer versions running in movie theaters as well. Everyone old enough to have seen them remembers them, and as the product is repeatedly mentioned as part of the gag, it's impossible to forget.
  • Fidelity Investments had an ad that was basically a rundown of Paul McCartney's career set to "Band on the Run", with the Fidelity logo coming in at the last seconds.
  • A radio ad for Quick Draw from New York Lottery focuses on people waiting in line to eat the "muffgel", a hybrid between a muffin and a bagel. The only connection to the lottery in the ad is that it's a better way to bring people together than waiting for the latest food trend.
  • In 1989, Midland Bank, one of the UK's "big four" banks, created First Direct, a new brand that would offer an over-the-phone banking service, something unique at the time. To hype up it's launch, during an ad break of a TV airing of Romancing the Stone, what seemed like a normal Audi commercial was interrupted by "a message from the future" (Audi had agreed with Midland Bank with the usage of an Audi ad for it). Midland also ran similar adverts concurrently on ITV and Channel 4, one offering a negative view showing the aspects of normal banking and the other a positive view of First Direct, with the two crossing over at a key point. However, it was the "message from the future" ad that proved to be the most memorable, as some commenters online in later yars who were looking for it were probably too bewildered by what they saw to remember it was an ad for First Direct.
  • World History ads from Russian bank Imperial in early 90s. First directing job for Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), each ad depicted a different person or event from Russian and world history. But even if you don't understand the language you can figure the bank wasn't mentioned once during the story, not counting the last words of every ad being "World History. Bank Imperial". Ads were a tremendous success, many phrases from there (re-)entered Russian folklore, they were named best Russian ad series since fall of Soviet Union (where ads first started to appear). The bank didn't survive the first Russian financial crisis of 1998.
  • In 1992 for quite some time evening newscasts Vremya (Time) on Russian television network Ostankino were consantly followed by a 30-second clip of presenter sitting behind the desk, doing and saying absolutely nothing. With advertisements still being a fairly new spectacle for a former Soviet nation, the speculation ran wild. Eventually the presenter started talking, yet saying just one phrase: "When time comes, I will tell what I think about that" (the original plan had been to keep him silent, but companies bought next ad slot and tried to hijack the spot leading people to think it was part of their commercial). So, what were they selling? Now we know that up until the last one of their broadcasts they were selling nothing, or if you will, the ad slot itself. A small media buying agency ended up with this very lucrative post-Vremya ad space and this was their idea to keep the oven warm until someone would pay them to be in The Reveal. That "someone" eventually was Menatep Commercial Bank. To make sure everyone was there for the reveal, they asked their friends at Ostankino to broadcast a message before the news: "Dear viewers, please stay until the end of news broadcast for a very important announcement". Unfortunately for them, Russian people in the eastern part of the country (they usually get the true live broadcasts, in Russian television it's called "orbit") interpreted "very important announcement" exactly how you'd thought they would, and rightfully enraged government officials cut the announcement from delayed broadcasts for the rest of the country. Many people vividly rememeber the silent presenter, not many will tell what it was about.
  • Takefuji, an infamous Japanese Loan Shark company, was well known before their 2010 demise not just for their moniker (they called themselves a Yen Shop) and corrupt business practices that would make other short term lenders blush, but also their incredibly flashy commercials, which often featured women in skin-tight leotards dancing to the Japanese Eurodance song "Synchronized Love" by Joe Rinoie (also famously featured in DanceDanceRevolution). The only clue these commercials give as to what they are selling is the disclaimer: 「ご利用は計画的に」 (Please have a plan in mind before using.)
  • The cryptocurrency service Coinbase ran an ad during the 2022 Super Bowl which consisted of nothing but a QR code floating around the screen for 58 seconds and then the service's logo appearing at the very end. The QR code contained a link to the signup page for their service but the commercial which consisted of nothing but the QR code seemed like dead air or a technical difficulty from a TV broadcast standpoint.
  • In the late 90s, the North Carolina-based bank First Union ran a series of surrealistic ads (to the level of Dada Ad) depicting a financial-themed dystopic/post-apocalyptic city. The ads featured, among other things, a bowler hat clad businessman's head shattering on pavement and releasing money like a piggybank, deserted, "old-time" financial institutions, a Las Vegas-esque financial district with a literally double-faced guy telling people to buy or sell and a giant being made up of neon signs, and skyscrapers being hoisted into place by helicopter and colliding with each other. The ads ended with the narrator noting the "financial mountain" of First Union and how "If you prefer, the mountain...could come to you" (which in itself sounds like a threat). One of the YouTube comments explains it was the brainchild of the then-CEO's son (said CEO thought this would stand out from the usually-boring financial advertising). The campaign was short-lived, and combined with a botched expansion in the Philadelphia area (where lots of trouble ensued thanks to First Union screwing up the transition between their computer systems and the systems of predecessor CoreStates), sullied their name to the point that in 2001 they merged with rival North Carolinan bank Wachovia and chose to use their name from then on (until the Great Recession hit and thanks to their heavy involvement in the sub-prime mortgage area, Wachovia was taken over by Wells Fargo).

  • The 2011 commercial for Utah politician Jon Huntsman's Presidential campaign, which consists solely of a motocross biker riding his motorcycle through a desert and an anecdote that Huntsman headed a rock band in the 1970s. The only thing that tells you it's a political ad is the "Paid for by Jon Huntsman" tag at the very end. Not long after, Conan O'Brien made fun of the commercial by creating an even more bizarre ad featuring senior citizens and house music.
  • There's also former Alaska senator Mike Gravel's ads for his quixotic 2008 presidential campaign which involve him staring creepily into the camera and then walking away, and him stoking a campfire. Both ads run for several minutes but only mentions what they're for when his web site pops up at the end.
  • Pete Hoekstra's infamous "Debbie Spend It Now" attack ad. Imagery of a stereotypical Chinese girl riding a bike along a rice paddy and her thanking a Michigan senator for supposedly making the American economy "weak" made some question what the ad even was about.
  • Around the time of the 1988 presidential debates, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis' campaign ran a series of ads known as the "Handlers", featuring actors playing members of the campaign of Vice-President George H.W. Bush fretting over a point Dukakis made or — in the case of the Vice-Presidential debate — Dan Quayle finding himself on the wrong end of Lloyd Bentsen's "Senator, You're No Jack Kennedy" retort. However, one of the problems that series of ads ran into was a number of viewers either not being sure what was being promoted (with some thinking the ads were the Bush campaign parodying themselves)

  • There were billboards around New York that punned on food idioms, such as "Cool As A [picture of a cucumber]" or "Easy As [picture of a slice of pie]". That's the only thing on the billboard. They were selling ad spaces. Earlier versions of the ads did prominently display the Van Wagner logo and number, clarifying that it was available billboard space.
  • The "Dear Kitten" shorts on BuzzFeed video advertising Purina Friskies. The premise is of a house cat explaining various things to a new kitten, often misunderstanding them himself, e.g. believing the vacuum cleaner to be a monster. Friskies do appear and the cats enjoy it, but the brand name is never said aloud and the food is never the focus of the short, often just getting a passing mention. Several shorts don't even mention it at all.
  • Around some US states, there are trucks that stop at bridges with the message: "Jesus Christ is lord, Not a swear word." Some people don't realize that they are for the Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center, located at Amarillo, TX.
    • Interestingly enough, a trucking company run by a Sam Kholi has also adapted the slogan on their trucks, and has continued to do so after the Amarillo's travel center's closure. It's reasonable to say that any trucks with the message these days are for the trucking company and not for the travel center.
  • Matchbox had some of the weirdest print ads during the Turn of the Millennium. You can't even tell if they were selling diecast toycars in this advert from 2003, unless one connects the dots that they are all Macro Zone styled scenes. The most egregious of these examples is the "Big Women, Small Cars" campaign they did in Germany in the year 2007. A bunch of hot women posing with 1/64 diecast models.
  • Mixels: An animated short series airing on Cartoon Network that gives no indication that is a product from LEGO, goes with this trope heavily. This is mostly due to the fact that the series is made using 2D animation, when most LEGO shows and advertisements are made out of LEGO.
  • In early 2017, it was made obvious that recently-inaugurated President of the United States Donald Trump watched a lot of cable TV, particularly Fox News's Fox & Friends, which prompted some to buy ads on the show just to get the President to listen to them. Most notably, the team of HBO's show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver bought air time just to inform Trump of things he would need to know but doesn't seem to. Their ads are a parody of a catheter ad, but they don't sell anything; and while a few make more or less clear who their intended target is, the rest don't make it obvious.
  • DirecTV's short-lived "Hannah Davis and Her Horse" ad campaign was about a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue model riding a talking horse, and the only connections to DirecTV is them talking about it with the rest of the ads seemingly having nothing to do with their services outside of the offer screens and appearance of the company logo.
  • Most people are familiar with the "Dogs Playing Poker" paintings by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, being a popular stock art reference. Not as many people are aware that all but two of the paintings (all but the first and last) were commissioned to sell cigars.
  • has a campaign with the MTA, consisting of posters with calm abstract imagery and images of hands touching objects gently, imploring the viewer to "get in touch with pleasure." This may be an Enforced Trope as Dame sells sex toys for women, and the MTA initially rejected the campaign on its train prior to a gender discrimination lawsuit; the approved campaign is thus quite tame and alludes to sex without actually showing any sex toys.
  • FedEx lampshaded this trope when they claimed to have found the formula for the perfect Super Bowl ad — only one of the ten items involved was the Product Message, and it was labeled "optional".
  • A lot of short films made by brands to promote one of their products will fall into this trope for a multitude of reasons: since they're short films and not commercials, they're not meant to be broadcast on television and therefore have much more creative freedom than a normal commercial will; as a vast majority of the general audience won't see them anyways, they don't have as much pressure to advertise a product; and most branded content, which can range from short films to full-on feature-length documentaries and movies, is made with the purpose of showing off a brand's artistic merit or even just to highlight to a particular social issue a company wants to bring awareness to. This is especially true of branded content made by fashion brands, whose advertising is already abstract by nature. That being said, a good chunk of these short films will show off a product in a Show, Don't Tell manner - expressing its capabilities visually instead of telling what it can do to the audience.
  • Near Cleveland, there are(at least in 2023) billboards for the personal injury lawyer Tim Misny. Initially the billboards (along with commercials that sometimes appeared on TV) would have a picture of Misny's grimacing face, the phrase "Misny makes them pay," and possibly a more concrete description of what he handles (personal injury cases). After a while it started changing to just his face and "You know what I do." Now, some of the billboards are just a bunch of different colored copies of the same photo of him scowling out. Anyone who did not see the earlier adds would likely think that he is just some creep who likes to put his face everywhere.
  • Most of Jonathan Glazer's advertising work is this, since almost all of the ads he's directed toe the line between being simply strange to utterly incomprehensible and have practically nothing to do with the product (though anyone who's seen Glazer's movies knows he's not the most straightforward of filmmakers). This hasn't stopped his work from being widely acclaimed, included having directed some of the most famous commercials in British advertising history ("Ice-Skating Priests" for Stella Artois and a series of three commercials for Guinness, in particular).
  • Second-hand retailer Cash Converters' "Thirteen" advert shows a guy walking along when he hears a group of people behind a fence chanting "thirteen, thirteen, thirteen" over and over. The guy is curious and tries to look over and under the fence but to no avail. He then sees a knothole in the fence and looks through it, only to be poked in the eye. The jerks on the other side then start to chant "fourteen, fourteen, fourteen". The extremely tenuous connection to the company is that apparently the skit was filmed on a camera bought from Cash Converters.
  • The trailer for Rivals of Aether's Milestone System in Rivals Direct 2 is incredibly vague, with the hosts just mentioning that "it's free" and a "system", but not how it works.

    In-Universe examples 
  • On Seinfeld, Jerry's Girl of the Week at one point was a model who showed him a magazine ad she appeared in, which consisted entirely of a picture of her getting out of the shower covered only by a washcloth. Jerry asks what the hell it's supposed to be selling, and she points to a pair of jeans draped over a chair way in the background and so out of focus that Jerry has to squint to see them.
  • The Apple 1984 ad was parodied in Futurama with the new Planet Express ad (which was designed by a Gordon Gecko expy from the 80s):
    Leela: That was terrible! People won't even know what we do.
    Bender: I don't even know what we do. Nah, just kidding! What are we, like, a bus or something?
  • Parodied in the [adult swim] mock-infomercial Icelandic Ultrablue. Apparently it's something medical and sinister.
  • A recurring theme in the British version of The Apprentice — one team will be led by someone with an "artistic vision", the other team will make something "tacky" that shouts the product name and concept at you, and the shouty team will win because Lord Sugar can't stand "artsy fartsy stuff".
    • Given that irrelevant adverts were one of the things Lord Sugar nominated when he was the guest on Room 101, you'd think they'd catch on to this.
  • One episode of Happy Endings: Dave shoots a commercial for his sandwich truck, Steak Me Home Tonight, but spends the time talking about nostalgic things from his childhood like playing chess in the park, and talking with his dad over hotdogs. He forgets to mention the name of his truck. He later runs into a man, who reconnected with his father because of the ad, as they go to get hotdogs.
  • In The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time, one of three 24th-century commercials Gage Blackwood can watch is an infocommercial for an unusually powerful spray cheese product called "Cheese Girl". It consists of a giant can of the stuff falling on a man, who then unwillingly pukes it out of his mouth while a high-pitched voice shouts "CHEESE GIRL! CHE-CHE-CHEESE GIRL! HA-HA-HAVIN' FUN WITH CHEESE GIRL!". Conveniently, this item actually proves useful in reaching a damaged space station in one of the time zones.
  • Rick and Morty uses and parodies this in "Rixty Minutes". Watching inter-dimensional TV, one of the ads is for "Turbulent Juice", which is (seemingly) a cleaning product that overdoes the sex appeal, leaving Morty bewildered when it overlaps with Dada Ad.
    Morty: What in the Hell?!
    Rick: Sex sells, Morty.
    Morty: Sex sells what? Was that, like, a movie, or, like, does it clean stuff?!
  • Referenced (predicted?) in John Brunner's novel Shockwave Rider (1974). A game accessory let people tweak commercials as they were playing, which led to people ignoring the product wasn't "that Coke ad" or "that plug for Drano" — it was "the one where you can make her swipe him in the chops."
  • Family Guy: The family mostly reacts in confusion to a Mentos parody commercial, while Peter says: "Must. Kill. Lincoln."
  • Done In-Universe in an episode of Friends where Chandler is working at an ad agency, and he and the other new hires are asked to come up with an ad for a new product. One of them finishes breathlessly explaining how the naked women in the hot tub start making out at the end of the commercial, and their boss compliments him on the ad and mentions it only had one problem: the part where he completely failed to mention the product in any way.
  • The John Lewis Christmas Ad is parodied in the Christmas Episode of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, in which an advertising copywriter working for a John Lewis-like department store astounds everyone with the revolutionary idea of actually talking about the things they sell.
  • Homestar Runner: "Senorial Day" features parodies of Kitschy Local Commercials for Memorial Day car dealership sales, with Senor Cardgage's "Senorial Day Tent Event Suprasale" and Bubs' "Bubsotathon". However, at no point does either commercial explicitly state what they're offering "vera low prices" and "huge savings" on.
  • The commercials in the annual specials on The Nostalgia Critic tend to elicit this reaction from the Critic.
    • One example is the fast-paced and vague Transformers Pretenders ads in the 2011 special that leave him nearly speechless in how confusing they are.
    • The commercial in the Dragon's Lair review (a Sequel Episode to the 2015 commercial special) for the Dragon's Lair 2 kickstarter throws in Randy Savage and Segata Sanshiro (both of their ads were featured in that commercial special), but they quickly lose track of the product in favor of being extreme.
      Savage: Whoo. We just blew up Africa!
      Segata's subtitles: This Has Nothing To Do With What We're Advertising!!!
    • There's also the 2019 special's Charger Tron toy commercial (which seems to be a rip-off of the Transformers, ironically), where Critic is very confused about exactly what the product is but loves the jingle so much that he believes it could work with any scenario. He then plays a skit set to a parody of the Charger Tron jingle about a date with a Stalker with a Crush that leads with the stalker killing and burying her victim, which only mentions the Chargertron toy at the end.
      This was an ad for Charger Tron. Sorry for the confusion.
  • The Simpsons: In "Mr. Plow", Homer commissions an ad agency for a new commercial for his snowplow business, hoping to get an edge over Barney Gumble's "Plow King". The commercial in question is an artsy Dada Ad that has almost nothing to do with Homer's business. It opens on a black and white scene of a woman gazing into a snowglobe while giving a One-Woman Wail, then cuts to timelapse footage of the NYC skyline. Then a shirtless man strides into the room, lifts the snowglobe, and throws it, causing it to shatter. The dust clears where it landed, revealing a sign reading "MR. PLOW."
    Lisa: Dad, was that your commercial?
    Homer: I don't know...
  • Conservative pundit Michael Knowles has a recurring series on his Youtube where he tries (and usually fails) to guess a product by their “woke” ads, noting the progressive messages they’re trying to send may have little to nothing to do with their business, and often don’t make much of an impact anyway.
  • Danny Gonzalez invoked this by doing an experiment to see if vague mobile game ads actually attract viewers, making one ad that explained his channel well and two other ads that were really confusing and irrelevant, based off specific weird mobile game ads Danny had previously reviewed. One of the weird ads depicted him as undergoing Evolutionary Levels and becoming a wizard with a fat ass, with the vague tagline "I do everything on my channel" and an audio track berating the viewer, while the other had Danny spank himself with the tagline "IF YOU SUBSCRIBE TO THE GOOD BOY YOU ARE LEGALLY PENCIL SHARPENER," though at least that one showed clips of Danny's channel. Surprisingly, the ad that received the least engagement was the straightforward ad, and the ad that received most engagement was the wizard ad, which was the least related to the channel's content.
  • DuckTales (1987): Fenton, trying to prove that he can be more than an accountant, does up a series of mock advertisements for a fake product called "Pep." It's literally just a stand-in name, because his intention is just to show the commercials to Scrooge so he can get a chance to make a real commercial for a real product. Unfortunately, there's a mixup at the marketing department, so Fenton's fake commercials end up airing, and Duckberg goes wild for Pep. No one knows what it is, but everyone wants it. When Fenton comes clean to Scrooge, they decide that the best course of action is to come up with some kind of product that they can sell, and the plot sort of takes off from there.
  • Saturday Night Live once ran an ad for a company called West Link that sells an inspirational message of "greatness," "ingenuity," "our children's dreams" and "mak[ing] the extraordinary commonplace," never hinting at any particular product or service before triumphantly concluding, "West Link: Even we don't know what we do."
  • In one episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, various sectors are having a science fair to demonstrate the latest in 2x4 technology. The judges approach the booth for France's sector, Sector F. The operatives there display a video in black and white, bizarre imagery and dialogue, and the two operatives reciting Frère Jacques. The lead judge needs to call out to them to even figure out what they hell they're demonstrating. It turns out to be a spray operatives can use before taking a bath so they will not get clean. It ends up winning the fair.
    Numbuh 2x4: Well, why didn't you say so?
  • Game Grumps parodied this with the video titled "Our House". It consists of the chorus for "Our House" looped and altered to say "in the middle of our house" for nine minutes with images of houses inside houses inside Houses. At the end, it is revealed to be a commercial Arin was watching for a pillow brand called "Fosterman's Sleep-Tite Pillows." The only indication was the house at the 3:46 mark having the words "Sleep Tite" written on the garage door and the line "That was where we used to sleep" at the end.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Vampire Effect


Le Filthe Commerical

Even in Kids Next Door, the French Operatives can make a French Commercial as French as any French Commercial.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / WhatWereTheySellingAgain

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