Embracing the ‘Ugly’: A Holiday Twist on Effective Advertising

Deborah Goldfarb
4 min readDec 21, 2023

Once upon a time, during the Victorian era, festive knitwear began its journey, embodying the spirit of Christmas in its every thread. Fast forward to today, and this tradition has evolved — or should we say, escalated? The holiday season now flaunts a degree of commercialization where garments grow more outlandish by the year. Enter the era of Ugly Sweaters.

Yes, since the mid-1980s, the ugly sweater became an iconic meme, thanks to Bill Huxtable from The Cosby Show and Chevy Chase’s character in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And let’s not forget Andy Williams, crooning holiday tunes clad in sweaters adorned with reindeer, elves, and Santa Claus himself. From unique and cool, to outdated, to retro and nostalgic, these wonderfully tacky, ornate seasonal sweaters have become a beloved part of our holiday pop culture, celebrated in films like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Love Actually, and Elf.

And then, the pièce de résistance — in the US, we’ve even dedicated a national day (Ugly Christmas Sweater Day) on the third Friday of each December to proudly don this quintessentially ‘hated’ clothing item.

But what do these sartorial choices have to do with advertising, you might ask? Just like the evolution of the ugly sweater, there’s a trend in the world of marketing that mirrors this journey — the rise of ‘ugly ads.’

These aren’t poorly made or ineffective advertisements. Instead, ‘ugly ads’ refer to those marketing materials that prioritize raw, authentic appeal over high polish and sophistication. They often have a lo-fi, less refined look, feeling more real and less ‘corporate.’

Ever wonder how ‘ugly ads’ became a thing? Picture this: in a world bombarded by glossy, picture-perfect ads, along came the rebel of the advertising world — the ‘ugly ad.’ Barry Holt, the guru of consumer psychology, spills the beans: “If you want your ad to be seen, you need to get past people’s subconscious visual ad blockers.” And boy, do ‘ugly ads’ do just that.

Think of those doorbell camera snapshots, wobbly phone footage, and grainy TV clips. They’re the advertising world’s equivalent of an ugly sweater — not exactly runway material, but somehow, they grab your attention and refuse to let go. Thanks…

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Deborah Goldfarb

Debbie Goldfarb is the founder of Biz Made EZ and is a well-respected marketing and branding consultant working with both small and large businesses.