Skip to main content

I was reading a story on USA Today's Web site the other day when an ad appearing on the right side of the page jumped out at me. It was a picture of a strange looking guy — really strange — along with the following text: "Homeowners fail to refi. Only 85,000 homeowners have taken advantage of Obama's refinance plan. Calculate new payment."

That statement is sensible enough (we've even built our own refinancng calculator), but the picture that accompanied the ad seemed utterly unrelated, and actually seems to have been photoshopped to make the guy look extra freaky. His nostrils seems enlarged, he is wearing 1980s-era dork glasses and he's got one of the most prominent rows of choppers on the Web. The thing is, I know I've seen the guy's picture before, but this was the first time I actually paid attention.

I clicked the link and was taken to, which is owned and run by Experian. According to the site, they are a "free online service for consumers to compare low rates on monthly bills and reduce the cost of living," and they offer "savings through relationships with more than 500 service providers across multiple categories, including home loans, credit cards, auto and health insurance, and long-distance and wireless services."

OK. All of that sounds perfectly reasonable. So what's with the freaky picture? I decided to reach out to their PR people. I sent them a screengrab of the image and asked them to please explain what it was all about.

Here's the company's response courtesy of PR representative Danica Ross: "All of our advertisements are designed to cut through the noise of Internet advertising in order to reach consumers and make them aware of the opportunities they have to save money. Our advertisements are created by our internal Marketing Department. Additional information related to the development of specific advertisements is proprietary. Sorry I can't provide more detail about the specific ad you mention. Please let me know if you have any other questions."

So it sounds like they create pictures designed to attract eyeballs and it doesn't matter if those pics have nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with the stuff they are promoting. So I followed up, with one of the more inspired e-mails I've ever written to a PR person.

If you like this story, check out this post on the craziest subliminal ads of all time.

I wrote: "This ad is a picture of a guy with huge glasses and it looks like weird teeth are Photoshopped in. Are you absolutely sure no one at Experian can comment ... really we’re just curious because it’s so surprising ... and as you say, it definitely gets readers’ attention ... If the whole idea is to put up a picture that people will look at, no matter how random or detached from the content of the ad, I wonder if there’s any concern about the potential negative consequences to brand in general. For example, in the case of this ad, yes people are drawn to it, but are you at all worried that is now going to be associated with the weird toothy guy in the glasses, and what kind of message that sends about the site and/or Experian?"

Here's what Danica wrote back:

"Thanks for your follow up. As a free online resource for consumers to compare low rates and reduce the cost of living,'s primary concern in designing creatives is capturing consumers' attention so that we can make them aware of the opportunities they have to save money."

OK, she's sticking to her guns and the company doesn't seem to be worried about branding here. Fair enough. But it makes you wonder if Experian may have discovered a secret algorithm that tells them how to get people interested in mortgage refinancing. And the answer is pictures of freaky looking guys with 80s glasses. Alternatively, it could be that one of the designers in their internal marketing department thought it would be cool to mess with a picture of his best friend then put it into a massive ad campaign — and it just so happens to have been a runaway success. People must be clicking on that ad like crazy... why else would it be all over the Web?

Hey, Experian. I've got a few ideas for eye-catching ads. How about a panda bear lighting a porcupine on fire? Wait. What about picture of a very old man picking his nose? People would definitely click.

If you like this story, check out this post on the craziest subliminal ads of all time.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at