Zilch, Trainline surprise people with creative ad campaigns

By Lewis Boulton


London, United Kingdom


Part of the joy of news brand content is often the element of surprise. Compared to platforms with curation capabilities that provide little scope for content beyond specific interests, publishers provide opportunities for readers to come across interesting stories and perspectives they may never have read intentionally.

However, they still have some expectations, particularly around format, building up familiarity with their news brand of choice through sustained trust and engagement. That makes for a brilliant opportunity for news brands and advertisers to subvert those expectations in brand-safe environments, delivering particularly impactful campaigns that stick in the memory.

Whether it’s a particularly left-field cover wrap that causes a splash or something completely unseen that makes readers sit up and take notice, the ability for masterful, subversive creative in news brands to grab our attention is as potent as ever.

Here are just some recent examples of news brand ads that flip the format rule book.


It would have been enough of a splash for the finance brand to take over every piece of inventory in a print edition of commuter daily Metro. However, the creative team went one step further in August and turned the entire inventory Zilch green; a QR code was the only clue for curious readers who to find out more about the campaign.

Who Gives a Crap

This was certainly no bog-standard ad from the Aussie renewable toilet roll brand, which also took over an entire print inventory of The Guardian for one day in June. Making creative to fit every space and size, the campaign used striking imagery, an open letter, and slightly risqué language to spread its message of sustainable sanitation.


If you ask Trainline, their customers should be thinking about booking trains for as little time as possible. Of course, that can leave readers with lots of extra time. Helpfully, the ticket booking app has an aquatic suggestion to impress friends and make new ones. Just make sure you notice which one is less dolphin and more red herring …


This is surely the worst nightmare of all planners: What happens when you forget to provide the artwork for what’s supposed to be a headline-making cover wrap? Luckily for whoever made this slip-up, that was the plan all along. Insurer Hiscox reassures readers that even the biggest business mistakes are survivable with brilliant left-field creative.

Breast Cancer Now

Subversive for a good cause, this ad takes advantage of the Women’s World Cup fever that swept the United Kingdom in August to bring awareness to breast cancer with particularly clever creative. Using the football centre circle to illustrate its point, this ad encourages anyone who notices any colour or texture changes to get themselves checked out.


You can’t keep the masters of the irreverent news brand campaign quiet for long. 

The latest stage in their advertising promoting its high street audiology service doesn’t even use words to describe the everyday joy of hearing, going for some imaginative but evocative onomatopoeia instead. That doesn’t stop the message from being instantly understandable and unmistakably Specsavers.

About Lewis Boulton

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