Capital One Campaigns Analyzed, Hated


Adrants reader "Campaign Critic" had such insightful things to say about the recent Capitol One ad campaigns that we figured we'd just extend him a Guest Contributor title for the day. Campaign Critic Writes:

Let's just get to the point: Capital One's credit card advertising is annoying, hard to follow and stupid. It quite frankly breaks a few of the most basic rules about advertising any product, let alone something as complicated or, these days, downright scary as handling a credit card.

One: don't go so afar afield from the point at hand that you lose the hook on what your product really is. Capital One's ads for their credit cards do just this: they somehow equate credit card service charges with barbarians (they have tried others in this series, but they take this one bad step further). "Credit card charges are like barbarians attacking you every time you use them." (Not barbarians-credit cards.) Sure.

But then, they make another huge mistake. They have decided that the audience is so interested in their little joke that they will understand when the barbarians have to get other jobs because they aren't of any use anymore (bank fees-not barbarians. Or is it...?).

They have broken a key rule in any advertising: You are not entertainment, you are an interruption. You must prove yourself worthy of being heard by offering something solid on which to base an opinion of the product advertised. Then, if you can be funny, all the better (just make sure it's really funny).

The second mistake Capital One makes in their advertising is made everyday in virtually every category of advertising when people run out of things to say about their product: they spend a good 90 percent of their time not talking about what they do right, but what the competition does wrong. In this case, it's having the other credit card providers screaming "No!" every time anyone asks for service. This just doesn't happen. It is annoying to hear someone (in this case, comedian David Spade) be rude. The idea is so hard to work with; the jokes no longer make any sense. People don't see them as Capital One ads, but as David Spade ads (he even did a skit on Saturday Night Live admitting as much).

Guys, guys, guys. It's your product. Shouldn't you spend some time talking about it? Credit cards are something that make a lot of people break out in a cold sweat. Miss a payment by five hours, and your interest rate doubles. Someone's trying to steal your identity (that's what the credit card ads say, anyway). And Capital One's customers are supposed to laugh about a barbarian finding a job?

You might have a fine product there. Let people know and understand what it is. And if you're going to be funny, be funny. Your barbarians and David Spade, at least in this context, are not funny. You are laughing at your own little jokes. Stop it.

So, who is doing it right? Well, CitiBank is doing an interesting little bit about identity theft, the ones where the person is speaking with the voice and the mannerisms of the thief. Still, two problems: banking groups are saying what they are showing isn't identity theft; it's credit card fraud. Also-the bigger problem-no one seems to remember that the ads are for CitiBank. Right now, that's as close to a positive comment as there is. Work needs to be done here.

by Steve Hall    Sep-20-05   Click to Comment   
Topic: Campaigns, Creative Commentary   

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Capital One commercials are "annoying, hard to follow and stupid." And in other headlines, scientists report that members of the Ursidae family defecate in the forest.

Thanks for the news flash, Campaign Critic.

Posted by: The Late David Ogilvy on September 20, 2005 4:47 PM

Personally I think it's a good campaign.

Credit Cards are Credit Cards - they're all much of a muchness, and Capital One is just working on making their brand (not their product) stick in peoples heads. I think it's working

Posted by: Rob Davy on September 20, 2005 7:06 PM

Cut the cards - consolidate the loans

Posted by: Robert Jones on September 21, 2005 11:43 PM

The current David Spade/voodoo doll ad is probably the worst, most violent piece of advertising that I've seen in over 50 years of watching TV. It is hideous. My skin crawls every time it comes on. If Capitol One has to stoop to such thuggery to get clients, it should go on and get out of the one should want to be associated with such horrid minds.

Posted by: Eddie on September 30, 2005 6:24 PM

I think the "barbarian" commercials are hilarious.

Posted by: Lew Shugar on October 3, 2005 1:14 PM

I can't say the ads do much for me wanting to go out and apply for a capital one credit card, but every time I see the barbarian as flight attendant, mace wacking passengers in the head as he passes, I laugh. I fully agree the ads are stupid, especially the NO! ads with David Spade. Isn't the real job of an ad to get the product out there and have people remember it and talk about it to others?

Posted by: jackie on October 21, 2005 2:49 AM

I love those CapitalOne TV ads with the barbarians..... especially when they go to school to learn how to use soap. I have 3 CapitalOne credit cards. Just read the fine print - like any tool, a credit card can be dangerous if not used properly......

Posted by: Keith Kondor on October 22, 2005 7:54 PM


Posted by: DUANE GLAD on October 25, 2005 12:13 AM

This morning I laughed audibly at the Santa Claus Daivd Spade spot. I rarely laugh aloud at advertisements, especially so early in the morning. The annoying, mean-spirited Spade character becomes the competition with an unstated connection. I wish more ads would follow this model.

Posted by: Brain on November 15, 2005 10:33 AM

You need to brush up on your marketing before writing another article. The point of the commercials is to make the "brand name" a household name. For every person such as yourself that is downplaying the ads, there are 10 that consider them funny or entertaining. Hey, it has all of you brandishing their name on this site, doesn't it? Pretty effective marketing if I say so myself. You may not buy the credit cards, but look, love or hate the commercial, Capital One has become a name you won't soon forget. As far as equating their product to the commercial, look at most of the commercials you see today. How many times do you see commercials where the product doesnt even appear in the ad? In Cap One's case, they poke fun at the credit market, at the same time tout their own credit cards. Targeting a consumer doesn't happen from the commercials, embedding the name does. Acquisition of the customer comes from mail solicitations and other sources of direct marketing. Bottom line, its a commercial, meant for entertainment and enjoyment. Stop reading into it so much and laugh...A visigoth as a flight attendant? Funny stuff anyday.

Posted by: John on November 16, 2005 3:05 PM

Are you kidding? Those commercials with the Barbarians are hilarious. I look forward to seeing them so I can show my husband how funny and entertainging they are. It was a clever genius who created those.

Posted by: kathy on December 20, 2005 8:44 PM

What about the one with the little jingle "Hands in my pockets, Hands in my pockets, Hands in my pockets." Thats an awsome tune. Does anyone have a download of that?

Posted by: Me on December 23, 2005 7:10 PM

Yea, I'm trying to find that tune's name too..

Posted by: Markus on December 30, 2005 12:19 AM

Hey, I love those barbarians. I would actually like to date the lead one!!! I can't do any worse than I have with modern man? .....and I do remember the point of the campaign---it is name recognition Fido!!! Because of those ads, I went to the Captial One web page and took a look at their services and rates. That is where the substance is-duh They have at least caught my attention in this oversaturated and humourless media world. I just wish Capital One would market a low interest card with a picture of your favorite barbarian. I would proudly use it!!!

Posted by: Alison on January 7, 2006 9:53 AM

The jingle is called hands in my pocket by Jim Guthrie....a Canadian... i have the song its good

Posted by: bailrs on January 24, 2006 10:53 PM

Jims site is, song isnt on there but i got it off audioblogger i think was the name

Posted by: bailrs on January 24, 2006 10:55 PM

Does anybody have a link for the Citibank "Hands in my pocket" ad video? I know it's weird but I want to use it.


Posted by: Tim on February 28, 2006 10:42 AM

Having spent 36 months of the last 60 living and working in Antarctica, I've never seen a walrus. There aren't any. I was watching Capital One's new commercial tonight with the couple going on their honeymoon on an island in the far south...presumably Antarctica. At the end he states that it's Walrus Mating season. Also, the "tourist brochure' he's reading is actually a Student Education pamphlet put out by the National Science Foundation...not tourist info. Do these ad agencies think people are stupid...I guess so.

Posted by: Tom on August 20, 2006 2:41 AM

Yes, unfortunately, they do, Tom.

Posted by: Steve Hall on August 20, 2006 10:42 AM

Plus, Tom, if I could really go to Antarctica with fewer miles than Barbados, I would sign up in a minute. Let's see, a plane ticket from Seattle to Barbados is probably around $500 or $600. Antarctica is, oh, probably $12,000. Sounds like a great deal! And yes, there are many, many stupid people. Why do you think so many people have credit card debt in the first place?

Posted by: Matt on October 4, 2006 12:00 PM

Not to mention that the dingbats in the current commercial pronounce Antigua wrong. (It's An-tee-ga, not An-tee-gwa.) And I still don't know what the point of the commercial is -- the only point they made with me is that they're not my kind of company.

Posted by: Jace on October 7, 2006 12:25 AM

Dingbats though they are, I don't think there's anything funny about implied walrus-rape.

Capital-One should fire their ad agency and get some fifth-graders to come up with something more tasteful.

Posted by: The Walrus (goo-goo-ga-joob) on October 10, 2006 1:06 PM

here is the hand in my pockets commercial from Capitol One

Posted by: Monica on October 26, 2006 12:26 PM

here is the hand in my pockets commercial from Capitol One

Posted by: Monica on October 26, 2006 12:28 PM

For the person/persons looking for this video my apologies here is the proper link to Capitol one video hand in my pocket, the last one was from Revenue Canada "Knee in my Package LOL They're both so anoying and funny, I love em!!!!

Posted by: Monica on October 26, 2006 12:34 PM

For the person/persons looking for this video my apologies here is the proper link to Capitol one video hand in my pocket, the last one was from Revenue Canada "Knee in my Package LOL They're both so anoying and funny, I love em!!!!

Posted by: Monica on October 26, 2006 12:35 PM

The whole point of a commercial is to entertain the viewer enough so that they will remember the product. I am truly amazed that someone actually took the time out of their day to write this. Get a life.

I personally think that the barbarian commercials are pretty funny.

Posted by: Hilary on January 15, 2007 2:56 PM

My all-time favorite was David Spade's line, "Ooh... I am shaking in my bright yellow shirt."

What a riot!!!

Before David Spade's stint, I seriously don't believe I had known of Capital One in any sense of the word. After David Spade, I actually know who Capital One is, what they offer, and some of the high-points of their benefits package.

In my world of marketing, I would have to disagree with the original commenter's ideas of what makes a good advertising campaign. I think they have done a great job in educating their consumer base as to what separates their product from a competitors.

Posted by: Bill Platt on April 6, 2007 6:19 AM

You want to know something strange? On the Capital One commercial with the guy trying to hit the tiny man with a golf ball, the tiny guy shows them something with a circle showing fractions of things and the three different fractions are exactly the same sizes and order of what it shows on the ccience video, "Most of Our Universe is Missing", on the Science Channel from 2006. The fractions were each different fractions of the universe containing visible matter, dark matter and dark energy. Again, the same measurements on the circle, the same order and even in the same position, but not the color. They say $% is the visible matter, 24% is dark matter, and 75% is dark energy. The fractions were smaller than what they appeared to be on the circle, but that's exactly the way it was on that video and the Captial One commercial. Could they have copied the fractions on the circle?? Why are they so perfectly the same in size, order and position? Color doesn't matter. On the video, they had backgrounds that looked like energy. Red, black and white energy not gray or beije, and the last one was violet.

Posted by: Richard on May 9, 2007 3:15 AM

Steve, you should get a whipcream pie in the face, or a klunk from Moe: you have no sense of humor. The commercials are funny as hell; they get the name out there and it gets people to do the word of mouth for the company. Simple, effective marketing. And I'm lmao everytime I see the ads.

Posted by: GangizKhan on December 18, 2007 11:04 AM

The NEW campaign--i.e., create your own card like a mad scientist (I think--it is even harder to follow)--is even worse.

And less funny.

AND they looked expensive--of course, so is naming a college football bowl after YOURSELF.

Posted by: Zen Wizard on January 3, 2008 4:53 PM

The capital one 'whats in your wallet' commercials are so fucking annoying.
i just change the channel when one of those irritating commercials start appearing.

it makes me want to blow my tv up

Posted by: Kumar on October 30, 2008 10:49 PM

Hey people the barbarian ads are racist plain and simple. all I ever do to prove racism is just reverse the roles. lets see how far a capital one ad would go if you had some black guys with big spears and bones through their big nappy froes , were doing exactly what the white barbarians were doing . the NAACP wpuld be beating their door down for sure . fact is you can't poke fun at any racial group or sex . just white men get bashed very regularly in advertisements. They are constantly displayed as buffoons and idiots. you will never see any other racial group being made fun of on tv. PEROID!!

Posted by: tom ferry on February 6, 2009 12:15 AM

Adolf Hitler had very high name awareness too and look what happened to him.

Posted by: john b on March 28, 2009 11:58 AM

Sorry, over-thinkers, ultra-serious analysts, and social commentators: I love the barbarian ads. I laugh my gluteus off at them, think they're very creative and wow, guess what? I REMEMBER the product! More than I can say for all those generic ho-hum credit card ads. If I were to pursue a credit card, I'd certainly look into Capital One first, just because I like its style.

Posted by: shanfan on August 4, 2009 9:28 AM