Disruptive Advertising: TRIZ And The Advertisement

Disruptive Advertising:
TRIZ And The Advertisement

Darrell Mann
Director, CREAX nv
Ieper, Belgium
Phone/Fax: +44 (1275) 342960
E-mail: Darrell.Mann@creax.com


This article is about the possible application of some of the TRIZ tools to the problem of marketing, and specifically issues surrounding the systematic creation of disruptive advertisements. Disruptive advertisements according to one of the world�s leading advertising agencies are those that attract customers because they fundamentally challenge and disrupt conventional modes of thinking. In TRIZ terms, a disruptive advertisement is one that challenges a contradiction. The article uses a UK survey of the nation�s favourite television advertisements as its foundation and examines them for the presence of contradiction elimination and, where relevant, the strategies used to overcome those contradictions.



One of the world�s biggest advertising agencies has published two books in the past four years on some of the secrets of their success (Reference 1, 2). The underlying philosophical basis underlying a lot of what they have achieved involves the recognition and challenging of conventions. Jean-Marie Dru calls this �disruption�. Disruption is effectively about finding a new way of presenting things; it is about paradigm shifts; finding new s-curves (Reference 3, Chapter 7). What Dru and his team have found - without any apparent awareness of TRIZ - is that locating these shifts involves the identification and resolution of contradictions. In many senses, from their advertising context, they are looking for the same sort of disruptive shift in the thinking of the recipient that comes from humour. Humour, as discussed every month in the CREAX newsletter (Reference 4), is fundamentally about contradiction resolution. As illustrated in Figure 1, a joke involves sending the listener in one direction while the joke teller travels in another one. The �joke� emerges when the listener learns that they have travelled in the wrong direction, and make the jump to the right direction - i.e. they solve a contradiction.

Figure 1: The Role of Contradictions in Humour.

Initial investigations at CREAX have revealed that the contradiction solving mechanisms underlying humour are bound by the same 40 inventive strategies that have been uncovered during TRIZ research (see also Technical, Business, Social, Architecture, Food Technology, Software Development, and Microelectronics examples of the 40 Principles at References 5-11 respectively).

Bearing in mind the apparent similarities between humour and disruptive advertising strategies, our working hypothesis at the start of this investigation has been that disruptive advertising strategies will also be strongly connected to the 40 Inventive Principles contained in TRIZ.

In order to test the hypothesis, the investigation has made use of the output of a national study conducted by a UK TV channel and newspaper (Reference 12), after their survey to find the �100 Greatest TV Ads� in the UK as voted by viewers.

The basis for the investigation, then, has been to examine each of these 100 advertisements - starting from number 100 and working systematically to number 1 - for the presence of a contradiction resolution, and then, if one is present, an evaluation of the inventive strategy used to make the disruptive shift. In recognising that not everyone will be familiar with advertisements in the UK, the results have been presented in generic terms with, for each advertisement, an identification of the underlying convention before a particular ad appeared, the convention shift created by the ad, and then the strategy used to achieve that shift.

Rank Subject Year Prevailing Convention Prior to Ad Disruption Inserted By Ad Inventive Principles Employed
100 Stork SB (margarine) 1962 Advertisements are made by actors First UK �vox-pop� - everyday consumers featured 35
99 Pedigree Chum (dog food) 1969 All dog foods are similar Champion dogs ALWAYS eat Pedigree Chum 20
98 Meccano (children�s toy) 1967 - No disruption -
97 Clark�s Shoes 1976 Shoe advertisements feature shoes Shoe ad features foot (function of shoe featured) 13
96 Sainsbury�s (supermarket) 1991-5 Supermarkets sell a wide range of products Those products are part of a recipe (function of food featured) 13
95 Charlie (perfume) 1975 Perfumes make women more attractive to men Perfumes empower women (�with one squirt, you can wear the trousers) 13 4
94 Parker Pens 1975 - No disruption (famous actress)
93 Timex (wrist-watches) 1964 Advertisements use anonymous �ad� music First UK adapted use of hit song by popular group 5
92 Gibbs SR (toothpaste) 1955 No TV Advertisements First UK TV Advertisement 35
91 Benson & Hedges (cigars) 1974 Advertisements sell a product Advertisements tell a dramatic story; product apparently incidental 5
90 Barclaycard 1984-8 Credit cards are �exclusive� Everyone can have a card and use it anywhere 13
89 Chunky (dog-food) 1967 - No disruption (distinctive dog)
88 Double-Diamond (beer) 1968 Difficult to advertise alcohol when you are not allowed to say that it �enhances your mood� Drink alcohol and �something miraculous happens - darts always hit bulls-eye, etc 35 38
87 Strand (cigarettes) 1960 Sell the brand Sell a �mood� 28 35
86 Nimble (low calorie bread) 1968 Bread is food - advertised very literally Woman in hot air balloon used to emphasise �lightness� 35
85 Courage Best (beer) 1979 Beer is a forward looking drink Spoof an old black and white film to emphasise �traditional� nature of Courage 13 5
84 Brut (men�s after-shave) 1976 - No disruption (popular sportsmen)
83 Cointreau (liqueur) 1972 Show the same ad through the duration of a campaign First UK �soap opera� ad - story progresses with time 15 20
82 Shell (fuel) 1962 Oil companies sell fuel Sell �freedom� (i.e. the function of the fuel) 35
81 Fruit Gums (candy) 1956 Advertisements are directed at the purchaser First UK �pester-power� ad - �don�t forget the fruit gums, mum� 24
80 Bird�s-Eye Beefburgers 1974-6 Advertisements always feature actors Ad contains only non-actors 13
79 Remington (shaver) 1979 CEOs don�t appear in advertisements �Personality� CEO Victor Kiam, �I liked it so much, I bought the company� 13
78 Olympus Cameras 1977 Use a famous person to advertise the product Advertisements built on scenario where no-one recognises the famous photographer 13
77 Eggs 1958 Advertisements communicate their message through a script Ad features only �go to work on an egg� - which becomes a sound-bite adopted by the nation 2
76 British Rail 1989 - No disruption -
75 Mars (confectionery) 1958 Confectionery is not advertised on TV �Mars helps you work, rest & play� - 1st UK chocolate advertisement 35
74 Lego (children�s toy) 1980 Advertisements for toys advertise the toy Advertising �imagination� 35
73 Murray Mints (candy) 1955 Advertisements have a voice-over First UK ad to feature a sing-along jingle (��too good to hurry mints�) 28 5
72 Fairy Liquid (detergent) 1961 Detergent is not a �generational� thing Detergent can be a generational thing (mother-daughter conversations) 20 24 5
71 The Guardian (newspaper) 1986 Newspapers advertised on the basis of price, promotional offers, special articles Ad shows aggressive youth running towards shocked-looking man in suit - audience assumes youth is going to attack man; then camera zooms out to reveal youth is pushing man out of way of falling objects (message - Guardian gives you the �big picture�) 17
70 Cresta (soda) 1972 Advertisements feature visuals, voice and music Slogan �it�s frothy man� also featured a distinct facial contortion for kids to copy 28 (another sense)
69 Dunlop (car tyres) 1993 Advertisements emphasise traditional safety element of tyres Character throws very unexpected hazards in the way of the driver - focus on the character not the tyre 13
68 British Gas 1986 Advertisements work by repeating their message Get the customer to repeat the message for you (�if you see Sid, tell him�) 25
67 Sony (televisions) 1995 - No disruption (spectacular stunt)
66 Toshiba (televisions) 1984 Television manufacturers make televisions A television manufacturer with a personality/ Identity 35
65 Birds-Eye Fish Fingers 1968 Fish fingers are nutritious food Fish fingers are an adventure 35
64 Schweppes (mixer drink) 1963 Advertisements sell mixer drinks Ad contains a mini-drama - in which product is apparently incidental 7
63 Yorkie (chocolate bar) 1976 Chocolate is for females Chocolate is for males 13 4
62 British Airways 1989 Advertisements are small Epic proportion advertisement 35
61 Maxell (cassette tape) 1990 Advertisements are serious and are based on the technical performance of tape Ad taps into natural tendency for people to mis-hear pop music lyrics and makes a joke about it 13
60 Rice Krispies (breakfast cereal) 1955 Breakfast cereal is nutritious Ad is about the �snap, crackle and pop� feature of the cereal 28
59 Audi (automobiles) 1984 Advertise in a language your audience understands �Vorsprung Durch Technik� (thus emphasising the �German�ness of the car) 13 35 5
58 Hofmeister (beer) 1983 Men drink beer A friendly beer character drinks beer 35
57 After Eights (chocolate) 1963 Chocolate is for children Chocolate is eaten �after eight� when the kids are in bed - selling a sophisticated eating experience 13
56 Fiat (automobiles) 1979 The best cars are made by �craftsmen� �Hand-built by robots� 35 13
55 Whiskas (cat-food) 1976 Advertisements are targeted at cat-owners Ad aimed at the cat (flashing light, canaries, fast moving objects, etc) - things cat owners know their cats like 24
54 Holsten Pils (beer) 1983 Advertisements are filmed especially for the campaign Ad built on existing (classic) films with beer feature electronically inserted 5
53 Sugar Puffs (breakfast cereal) 1976 Celebrities from TV shows sometimes make advertisements First UK celebrity man-in-costume (Cookie Monster from Andy Williams show) makes ad 35
52 Homepride (flour) 1965 Flour is an ingredient, advertised by chefs Cartoon character emphasising �Britishness�; also subsequently generated a number of spin-off products 35 17 5
51 Dulux (paint) 1968 - No disruption (cute dog)
50 Stella Artois (beer) 1991 Beer price is not an advertising issue �Re-assuringly expensive� 13
49 Heinz Beans 1967 Advertisements spell words correctly Beanz Meanz Heinz (initially received complaints from the nation�s schoolteachers) 15
48 Milk Tray (chocolates) 1968 Boxes of chocolates are given as gifts or as �thankyous� Series of advertisements in which James Bond-type character undergoes all sorts of trials to mysteriously deliver chocolates to woman (all because she �loves Milk Tray�) 35
47 Mates Condoms 1988 Condoms are taboo, and therefore embarrassing to buy The taboo is ridiculous 13
46 Milk 1975 Milk is good for you (kids) �Watch out, there�s a Humphrey About� - mysterious creature comes and steals your milk if you don�t drink it 35
45 One2One (mobile phone) 1996 Mobile phone services advertise on price Who would you talk to if you had the chance (celebrities chose - MLK, Yuri Gagarin, Elvis Presley, etc) 35
44 Esso (fuel) 1964 Oil companies sell fuel �Put a tiger in your tank� - shift analogy to powerful sounding animal 35
43 Old Spice (after-shave) 1977 - No disruption (�the mark of a man�)
42 VW Golf (automobile) 1988 Cars are advertised for men Women buy cars too 13 4 1
41 Campari (alcoholic drink) 1977 Campari is for sophisticated drinkers Campari is apparently for sophisticated drinkers, but the punch line reveals it is not (Campari was being re-positioned at the time) Ad; sophisticated man in sunny foreign villa �were you truly wafted here from paradise?� Model; �nah, Luton Airport� 13
40 Tetley Tea 1973 - No disruption (cute cartoon characters)
39 Foster�s (beer) 1981 Beer is a men�s drink, but no need to emphasise the fact (humorously) sexist ad exaggerating �maleness� through (already perceived to be highly sexist) Australian culture 35
38 Apple (computers) 1984 1) Directors progress from advertisements to films 2) Computers are very Orwellian 1) Ridley Scott makes ad 2) Apple represents individualism and democracy 13
37 Fry�s Turkish Delight (confectionery) 1957 Chocolate is chocolate Chocolate is �exotic� 35
36 Fruit & Nut (chocolate) 1977 People should be sensible; eccentric people are a bit embarrassing �Everyone is a fruit and nut case� 13
35 Martini (alcoholic drink) 1970 Alcohol advertisements are targeted at �adults� First UK ad recognising emergence of 30something adults as a market sector with specific needs 1
34 Pepsi (soda) 1973 Soda drinks give you sex appeal Ad in which boy fails to get girl; provoking sympathy. (Also, �lipsmackin-thirstquenching-acetasting- slogan became popular and was spoofed a lot by comedians, etc 13
33 John Smith�s Bitter (beer) 1981 - No disruption (cute dog does tricks)
32 Duracell (batteries) 1975 - No disruption (Ad picked up by Energiser after Duracell dropped the idea, and has since spawned several sequel advertisements) (cute bunny with drum)
31 Gold Blend (instant coffee) 1987 The same advertisement is used through a campaign Romantic soap opera - makes the news 15 20 5
30 Kit-Kat (confectionery) 1989 Time passes �Have a Break� - slow time down - a series of advertisements where this happens 19
29 Heineken (beer) 1974 Same as 88 Same as 88 - drink alcohol and something miraculous happens (�refreshes the parts other beers can�t reach�) 38 35
28 Hovis (bread) 1974 The world changes; change is a good thing. Also, advertising is a medium. �As good as its always been� - selling nostalgia. Advertising as art form. 13 20
27 Milky Bar (chocolate) 1961 - No disruption (cute child)
26 Flake (chocolate) 1959 Chocolate is chocolate Chocolate is a sexual symbol 35
25 Castlemaine (beer) 1986 (following Foster�s ad - see No.39) - sexism is an acceptable beer advertising form Disrupt the disruption by exaggerating the form even further 35 20
24 PG Tips (tea) 1956 Advertisements feature humans Chimps act the role of humans 35
23 Cornetto (ice-cream) 1980 Ice-cream tastes nice. Sell sophistication. Deliberately naff Venetian gondolier cheekily steals someone�s ice-cream cornetto 13
22 Oxo (gravy) 1958 Advertisements aren�t like �real life� �The Oxo Family� is just like yours; soap opera - there has been an Oxo family almost continuously since 1958 33 20
21 Ferrero Rocher (confectionery) 1995 Advertisements have to possess a certain degree of quality to be successful Post-modern advertisement �so bad it is good� 13
20 Real Fires (coal) 1988 - No disruption (cute animals in front of fire)
19 Andrex (toilet tissue) 1972 - No disruption (cute dog)
18 Shake�n�Vac (carpet freshener) 1979 Advertisements should be high quality An ad so laughably bad it becomes a classic 13
17 Carling Black Label (beer) 1989 Same as 88 Same as 88 - drink alcohol and something miraculous happens - revisit the idea 20 years later for a new generation 19
16 Coke (soda) 1971 Advertisements feature people that the customer can relate to Advertisements feature every kind of person and they all drink the product (�I�d like to teach the world to sing�) 33
15 Nike (football equipment) 1997 Wearing a particular brand of sports equipment will help you to play just like a (sponsored celebrity - Michael Jordan, etc) professional No disruption -
14 British Telecom 1988 Telephone advertising emphasises cost competition Telephones are about communication 35
13 Yellow Pages 1983 Yellow pages is ubiquitous, you use it for emergencies Yellow pages is for the good things too 13
12 Renault Clio (automobile) 1991 Car advertisements should target a specific customer sector Car ad features father and daughter - both want the car 6 13
11 Cinzano Bianco (alcoholic drink) 1978 Drink advertisements feature people drinking The drink is spilled (in many different ways - the series of advertisements proved durable by finding ever more inventive ways for Joan Collins to spill the drink over herself) 13 20
10 Impulse (perfume) 1998 People in advertisements are heterosexual Not everyone is heterosexual 1
9 Walker�s Crisps (confectionery) 1993 Celebrities endorse product (Nice guy) celebrity steals crisps from small children (US owners of Walkers crisps claim to still fail to understand the psychological reason why this works as a product promotion strategy) 13
8 Hamlet (cigars) 1964 Cigar are sophisticated Amusing ad series built on premise that the cigar will help get you through life�s little traumas 35
7 R White�s Lemonade 1973 Lemonade is for children A �secret lemonade drinker� adult sneaks down the stairs at night to raid the fridge 35
6 Levi�s 501s (jeans) 1985 Music is an incidental part of an advertisement Tie ad to classic record (I Heard It Through The Grapevine in the first of the series) ripe for re-release, re-release the record; it becomes a hit again, re-enforcing the product being advertised 5
5 Boddingtons (beer) 1996 Beer advertisements feature men Post-modern ad featuring woman 13 4
4 Electricity Association 1990 Advertisements are �things that happen between programmes� Advertisements are better than the programmes (this series of advertisements featured Aardman Animations - winners of three Oscars for animated films - the series of advertisements produced for this campaign are even available for purchase on video. On the downside, many people fail to connect the advertisements to the product. 35
3 Tango (soda) 1992 Advertisements feature sound and pictures Ad also features an action - slap in the face (�you know when you�ve been tango�ed�) 28 (another sense)
2 Smash (instant mashed-potato) 1973 (Instant) potatoes are nutritious Aliens joke about how earthlings make mashed potatoes the traditional way - when Smash is so much more convenient. The massive success of the ad is probably more to do with the scene of laughing aliens 35
1 Guinness (stout) 1999 Drink beer and something miraculous happens �Good things come to those who wait� - selling to a �spiritual�/higher emotional level 35 17


How Typical is this Level of �Disruption�?

The analysis of the �100 Greatest Ads� revealed an apparently very high proportion (85%) of advertisements featuring a disruptive content. In order to check whether this �high� figure was in fact typical, the author spent several days monitoring advertisements on the three terrestrial national UK TV channels. In all around 100 advertisements were observed. The number of advertisements featuring a disruption was found to be four;

Ideally this type of experiment would last for longer to ensure the day monitored was a �typical� one, but nevertheless the difference between 85% and 4% is felt to be significant enough to justify a comment that there is a definite and strong link between the presence of a disruption and a resultant positive effect on the viewer.

A similar experiment was commenced observing ads in the US, but time problems have thus far prevented acquisition of statistically significant findings. No ads featuring disruptions, however, were observed during the period of the experiment. Perhaps someone in the US may care to explore the subject further at some time in the future.



  1. Based on this assessment of 100 TV advertisements, there is a very strong correlation between convention disruption and popularity of an ad - with 85 of the 100 most popular advertisements in the UK featuring a contradiction-breaking disruptive shift of some kind. This finding is highly consistent with the theme and recommendations of the Dru book (Reference 2) that prompted the investigation.
  2. All 85 of the disruptive advertisements observed employed one or more of the known Inventive Principles contained within TRIZ - i.e. none of the disruptive advertisements featured a strategy that was derived from outside the known 40 Principles.
  3. As is the case with humour (Reference 3), a very large proportion of the disruptive advertisements are built on Principles The Other Way Around (30 examples) and Parameter Changes (31 examples). In all 17 of the 40 Principles were used in the 100 advertisements featured. In descending order of frequency these were:-
Principle Number of Occurrences
35, Parameter Changes 31
13, Other Way Around 30
5, Merging 10
20, Continuity of Action 8
28, �Another Sense� 5
4, Asymmetry 4
1, Segmentation 3
15, Dynamics 3
17, Another Dimension 3
24, Intermediary 3
19, Periodic Action 2
33, Homogeneity 2
38, �Enriched Atmosphere� 2
2, Taking Out 1
6, Universality 1
7, Nested Doll 1
25, Self-Service 1

In very general terms, it seems very apparent from the extensive use of Principles 13 and 35, and the preceding descriptions of the convention disruptions achieved by the 100 advertisements analysed was that the perhaps paradoxical fact that �successful� advertisements tended to appear to be selling something other than the featured product

  1. There was no significant correlation between the age of an advertisement and the likelihood of it being disruptive. Similarly, there was no significant pattern between the age of an ad and the Inventive Principle used to create the disruption.
  2. One of the key features involved in creating disruptive advertisements appears to be the successful identification of prevailing conventions. While it has been relatively easy to reconstruct these conventions for this article, it seems clear that this is a task much more easily done in hindsight than looking forward. This �convention-finding� (read; problem definition) task may turn out to be the most significant factor determining the success or otherwise of this type of advertising campaign.
  3. In hopefully not a true reflection of the British psyche, alcohol and confectionery collectively accounted for over a third of the most popular advertisements. Animals were the subject or played a dominant role in 20% of the featured advertisements. A successful advertisement that did not feature a disruption, was highly likely to feature a cute animal.


Future Work

We believe that there is significant untapped opportunity to use TRIZ to create stronger disruptive marketing opportunities - as the analysis here shows, less than half of the available 40 strategies currently appear to be being used. Our next job will involve looking at marketing strategy from a broader perspective in order to create a �40 Inventive (Market Strategy) Principles� article to complement existing field-specific data. We would welcome examples from anyone either working in the field, or who simply happens across an example of contradiction challenging advertisements/marketing ideas that they would like to share. Our target is to publish an article in January 2003.



  1. Dru, J.M., �Disruption; Overturning Conventions and Shaking Up the Marketplace�, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1996.
  2. Dru, J.M., �Beyond Disruption: Changing the Rules in the Marketplace�, John Wiley & Sons, New York, �Adweek� Series, 2002.
  3. Mann, D.L., �Hands-On Systematic Innovation�, CREAX Press, 2002.
  4. CREAX monthly newsletter, �Humour� page, www.creax.com.
  5. Technical Examples: The TRIZ Journal, July, 1997, http://www.triz-journal.com
  6. Business Examples: The TRIZ Journal, September 1999
  7. Social Examples: The TRIZ Journal, June 2001
  8. Architecture Examples: The TRIZ Journal, July 2001
  9. Food Technology Examples: The TRIZ Journal, October 2001
  10. Software Development Examples: The TRIZ Journal, Sept and November, 2001
  11. Microelectronics Examples: The TRIZ Journal, August 2002
  12. Robinson, M., �100 Greatest TV Ads�, Channel 4, The Sunday Times, Harper Collins Publishers, London, 2000.

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