Posted in Adwords, Google, Online Marketing by Matthew Stratford | 9 comments

PPC doesn’t have to be boring!


In the data driven world of paid search it’s easy to forget how to be creative. A fun, innovative and well executed PPC campaign can work wonders for your business. I’ve researched and compiled 10 of the most creative paid search campaigns of all time.

1. A Lesson in How to Get Your Dream Job by Using Paid Search

Back in the summer of 2009, senior copywriter Alec Brownstein decided he wanted a new job. He decided to target 5 creative directors and bid on their names on Google AdWords. Brownstein presumed that if he often searches his own name on Google than they would too and this would be his way of getting their attention – and he was right.

Since Alec was the only person bidding on the names of the five creative directors he wanted to work for, the average cost per click was just $0.13.

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The ad, as shown above, linked to his website.

The result of the PPC campaign promoting himself? 4 out of the 5 directors he targeted gave him an interview and 2 of those 4 offered him a job. And the best part about this campaign is that it cost him a grand total of $6!

This really was a clever way to play on the vanity of some of New York City’s top creative directors. You’re really tempted to Google your own name now aren’t you?

2. The Infamous BP Oil Spill

Probably the only one on the list I couldn’t class as a complete success but I certainly couldn’t leave it out. Back in 2010, in an attempt to manage their brand reputation, BP decided to cap the gallons of bad publicity via the use of paid ads. They bid on over 1000 search terms related to “oil spill” and ranked in position 1 for most of them. This allowed them to direct users to a dedicated page on their website called “Gulf of Mexico Response homepage” and explain what they were doing to rectify the ocean disaster.

Here’s the ad in action:

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Genius right? Well not quite… BP got their tone of voice completely wrong. Instead of talking to the users on a human level, I can only assume they got their finest lawyers to write an industry jargon-filled sentence to confuse the hell out of everyone.

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They missed their opportunity to appeal to the public on a personal level. BP were also accused of being unethical with some of the media claiming “BP were manipulating search results”. To be honest I think this was a combination of some media not quite fully understanding PPC and feeling the need to jump on the BP hate bandwagon. According to ClickZ Expert Kevin Lee, it is estimated that BP spent almost $1 million in less than a month with the average cost per click being $1.33. This is a perfect example of a good initial idea but the execution carried out poorly.

3. Ann Summers – Sexy Paid Search

A string of bold Ann Summers PPC campaigns that won the Revolution Awards in 2011 managed by iCrossing, saw them use an innovative way of using paid search as a branding tool.


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Their strategy was all about brand awareness. They tapped into current events by bidding on popular news-related search terms. Combine this with some cheeky brand related ad copy and you’ve got yourself an award winning PPC campaign. Doesn’t sound too difficult now does it?

Here are a few examples of the news related events iCrossing bid on:

  • 2010 Election

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  • British Airways Christmas strike 2009

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  • 2011 Chinese New Year

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This video by iCrossing sums up the Ann Summers PPC campaign pretty well.



Not only were the ads shown over 1.5m times, the campaigns were picked up by the mainstream press. The BBC, The Guardian and The Independent all wrote about the Ann Summers paid search campaigns. All of this brand exposure cost them just £4,500. The campaigns worked so well because the strategic decision to use these intrepid ads tied in perfectly with the Ann Summers brand image.

4. Snickers – You’re not you when you’re hungry

While it’s common practice in the PPC world to target misspelt search terms Snickers took this to a whole a new level. With the help of AMV BBDO ad agency and Google, they were able to obtain a list of the top 500 search terms. Then, using a clever algorithm, they generated a list of 25,381 different misspellings.

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Jessica Langdell from AMV BBDO reveals the list of incorrect spellings that brought a surprising amount of traffic for this Snickers campaign.

  • [wether]
  • [gool]
  • [ness]
  • [amazin]
  • [definately]
  • [wierd]
  • [vacum]
  • [moonsoon]
  • [publically]
  • [facw]

In just two days Snickers reported 558,589 ad impressions. With a click-through rate of 1.05%, 5,874 visitors made their way to the campaigns mini website

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Although I’m not quite sure how the ad agency got Google to approve the campaign considering it’s against Google’s ad policies to run ads that do not use commonly accepted spelling and grammar.

5. Kleenex Catches Colds

This campaign won the award for the “Best Use of Digital Media in 2013” and rightly so. The geniuses over at Mindshare developed a unique adaptive planning strategy. They realised when people get a cold or flu they turn to Google, years ago they would have gone to see a doctor. This insight into a fundamental change in consumer behaviour allowed Mindshare to use Google to geographically target cities nationally with flu outbreaks, in real time. Thus allowing them to focus the PPC campaign where it was relevant.

For 18 months, Mindshare analysed search trends related to colds and flu and compared it to other data. This included calls to Government health lines and doctor visits. The model they built allowed them to predict relevant flu outbreaks, at city level, in real time.

How effective was it? In the 2012 cold and flu season, 96% of Kleenex UK’s media spend went to regions of the country suffering a live flu outbreak. Total sales increased 40% year-on-year in the first two months. That’s a staggering extra 432,499 boxes of tissues sold.


6. Sky News

Sky News had the challenge of using paid search to target users who searched for specific news stories. To get ahead of their competition, Sky News collaborated with Unique Digital, who took its RSS feed and ran it through their Darwin Optimiser technology. This created keywords that were highly relevant to particular news stories.

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A pre-devised PPC budget was in place, which allowed the spend to be reviewed daily in the event of a major news story.

Why did this work? The keywords are highly specific this means that costs per click were low. Click volumes totalled over 100,000 clicks, whilst CPCs were priced under 25p each.

7. The Perfume Shop

The Perfume Shop is the second largest retailer of branded fragrance. They teamed up with Net Media Planet with the objective being to use PPC to increase brand awareness and saliency for The Perfume Shop whilst generating sales of specific branded fragrances.


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The Perfume Shop, used the fact that they sell celebrity perfumes to push their ads onto celebrity videos on YouTube for 6 months. Net Media Planet used their Mercury platform technology to bring the relevancy of paid search to display advertising. They targeted videos of celebrities who have their own fragrance brands – such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyoncé and Peter Andre. They received over 9 million views from the ads and gained a 236% ROI from the campaign.

8. Converse “Domaination”

This PPC campaign is my favourite out of the lot. Converse, the global footwear brand, with the help of the marketing agency Anomoly took a novel and innovative way to connect with their teenage audience online. They really captured their target audience in a fun and creative way.

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Through the study of insights, they use Google AdWords as a platform that let them tap into any given moment in culture by becoming relevant and fostering ‘converse-ations’, rather than selling their products directly.

They created a campaign that targeted search terms that their prospective customers might be searching for. A few examples of these are:

  • [First day of summer]
  • [Spelling bee]
  • [How to talk to girls]
  • [How to kiss]

Instead of presenting the viewer with an ad, Converse started a dialogue through the ad copy and multiple interconnected microsites that engaged the user in a deeper content rich experience. It allows them to be there for their audience during cultural moments and its one long path that leads back to their brand.

Watch the full video here:

9. Argos – predictive analytics in performance marketing

The winner of the best PPC campaign from the Search Awards 2014 saw Argos team up with Summit, a company who specialises in online marketing for retail clients. It’s not the first time Summit have won an award working with Argos either!

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What set Summit apart from the other shortlisted entries was the use of predictive analytics to predict how customers would behave and adjust bids and ads in near real time. To increase the accuracy of these predictions Summit used data from sources such as weather, TV, location and seasonality. This strategy saw Argos achieve new records in sales from PPC while maintaining costs.

10. The guy who used Facebook ads to get a date – Matt Simpson

On April 2nd 2011 Matt Simpson launch a Facebook ad campaign with the sole purpose of finding himself his ideal woman.

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How did he do it? Mr. Simpson took full advantage of Facebook’s audience targeting options. Mr. Simpson created ad parameters to target single women aged between 28 and 34. Their interests would include; yoga, meditation and books by spiritual authors. He also demographically targeted them to be within 25 miles of his hometown.

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Mr. Simpson then created a Facebook fan page with a free contact form. In five days, his campaign drove 30 clicks and 5 leads via contact form for $19.39. That’s just $3.88 per lead!

So I hope you were inspired or at least entertained by this collection of creative PPC campaigns.

About Matthew Stratford

Paid Search Account Manager

View all posts by Matthew Stratford

Comments (9)

  1. Ilias Tsatalmpasidis -

    Great post Mat!
    You don’t often find this level of creativity on PPC Campaigns! My favourite one is definately snickers even though I never seen it live.

    One of the things I’ve done in the past was when I was working at RS Components last year at the Music Tech Festival in London, when our team decided to bid on the name of Hacks and Projects that were trending on twitter on the festival and the creators names as well! It worked very very well and it was so nice deciding to bid based on Real time trends. Also the costs were kept manageable as the competition was minimal too.

  2. Matthew Stratford -

    Hi Ilias

    Yeah quite a few people in the office also found the Snickers campaign to be their favourite too!

    That sounds like a really interesting and creative campaign you and your team constructed. It’s great to see something like that working.

  3. Sasa Cazar -

    Some really genius ideas elaborated here! .. Thinking out of the box at its best and bold straight forward targeting (specially the 1st !)

  4. Tom Norman -

    Found this hilarious Matthew. Interesting what you can accomplish with a bit of cash and a deep understanding of PPC.

    Cheers for the write up!

    Tom – Founder, Portal Imagery

  5. Uros Djunisijevic or just Ross -

    By far most interesting article on PPC I’ve ever read! You should consider compiling monthly top 10 review – especially cause your in-depth analysis was what really made the read exciting, all the way through. Thanks and keep on rocking!

  6. Adrien Saint -

    Triggering Inspiration
    Thanks for putting them together

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