ugly_dogPerfectionism is a marketer’s worst enemy. When you spend too much time sweating the details, you risk slowing down your momentum.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some things that need your full attention. For instance, you should be laser focused on optimizing your ROI metrics and conversion optimization touch points. The shade of black you want your font color to be? Not so much.

Aesthetics are important. Just ask CloudSponge, a platform that imports contacts from Yahoo, Gmail, and other email services. When the company upgraded its outdated website to a modern and professional design, conversions jumped by 33%.


But here’s the thing. Beauty alone cannot save your online marketing. In addition to an updated look and feel, the new CloudSponge design featured clear calls-to-action, social proof, and a detailed explanation of product benefits.

What we’re about to say might make a lot of designers mad. When it comes to online marketing, function beats form. Ugly marketing is often just as effective as its beautiful counterparts. Here are 5 examples to convince you (WARNING: #4 is really creepy. So scroll fast!)

1) This Facebook Sidebar Ad


CrazyEgg is one of the most valuable marketing analytics tools out there. The company produces heatmapping software to help website owners understand their website audiences’ behavior. The folks behind this brand are some of the smartest marketers out there.

Why this ad is ugly

Take a quick look at this right-rail sidebar ad on Facebook. There’s a giant cursor in the top right corner of the ad’s image. It’s jarring and kind of an eyesore. So why include it?

Why this ad is awesome

It’s a way to get users to click and acquire more web traffic from Facebook. Not to mention, high click-through rates on Facebook ads will in turn, lower CPCs. You read that right – you get more web traffic for less advertising spend.

What we can learn

Everything about this ad is perfect – a carefully crafted headline, informative copy, and a well-designed image. The cursor? It’s an eyesore, but it gives the ad an extra boost to take it from “good” to high performing.

2) This Email


Trey Smith is a brilliant mobile app and game developer. He’s built multiple successful companies and teaches people how to replicate his success. One of his most recent ventures is GameAcademy, a website that sells educational resources for people who want to learn about mobile game development.

Why this email is ugly

It’s not ugly, per se. It’s just really plain. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of a heavily designed newsletter. It looks just like a regular email.

Why this email is awesome

Because it looks like a regular email – because it doesn’t have any bells and whistles. Consumers live in a cross-platform world. We’re checking email on a variety of devices, including smartphones and tablets. If you’ve ever loaded a graphics-heavy email on your smartphone, you’ve probably realized that it’s not fun. Trey Smith is on to something awesome with his short, sweet, and minimalist emails.

What we can learn

Email marketing should be about substance and content.  Don’t sweat the details of intricate email design. Sometimes less design means more engagement.

3) This Homepage


CouponMountain is one of the Internet’s oldest coupon and deal websites. The company partners with top retailers like Home Depot, Kohl’s, and Target to connect online shoppers with promotional codes.

Why this homepage is ugly

To be blunt, it looks like a design from the late ’90s. From a design perspective, HTML tables are quite outdated. The mix between text and brand logos is also awkward.

Why this homepage is awesome

It’s really easy to scan for information. Everything you need to know about the coupon code is right there, in one line. All that you need to do is browse the table, and you have all the information that you need about the promotional code. And let’s face it – there’s no visually appealing way to present this information in such an easy to follow form. Coupon Mountain deserves a high five for this one.

What we can learn

Function beats form. When people want information (and they want to digest it quickly), they are less interested in aesthetics. What matters most is that you remove any friction that keeps people from easily consuming the information that they want.

4) This Soap Brand Ad


This soap brand ad reads, “if you aren’t totally clean, you’re totally filthy.” The cockroaches are a mild exaggeration, but they’re a symbol of something that’s completely true – people who don’t wash their hands are covered in germs. Regular handwashing is one of the healthiest things you can do.

Why this ad is ugly

No words can describe how disgusting and terrifying this ad looks.  I’m writing this blog post at 1 a.m., and I want to jump out of bed, run to my car (in the cold), and go to the store to buy every single bug spray and sanitizer on the shelves.

Why this ad is awesome

It’s pretty darn convincing. It brings back to my mind all those talks about washing my hands in preschool.

What we can learn

Fear is an ugly, yet convincing emotion – especially when it comes to marketing. If you’re considering using fear in your marketing, however, proceed with caution. There’s a fine line between playful humor and being a total jerk (and this ad walks that line).

5) This Big, Bold CTA


Performable was a marketing automation company that HubSpot acquired in 2011.  Years ago, Performable ran an A/B test with two different colored CTAs. Red beat green and yielded a 21% boost in conversions.

Why this CTA is ugly

It’s jarring and contrasts with the color scheme of these landing pages. Stare at either version long enough, and they’ll start to feel like an eye sore. The green however, is a little less obtrusive because it fits into the existing color scheme of the website.

Why this CTA is awesome

It stands out from everything else on Performable’s homepage. There’s no way that you can’t notice it. Does it really matter if the red CTA doesn’t blend in with the website’s color scheme? It generated higher conversions.

What we can learn

CTAs can actually be more effective when they don’t fit into your website’s existing color scheme. Why? Because they’re more likely to get noticed. Try to pick a contrasting color, and resist the urge to fit into your website’s existing color scheme. And always run an A/B test to objectively decide that you’ve made a good judgment call.

Final Thoughts

Designers, please don’t hate us. We admire and respect what you do – and we think that your magic touch adds wonders to the ugliest of marketing strategies. I love beautiful, intuitive design – both as a business owner and consumer.

Our point to marketers is that execution is everything. Don’t let the pursuit of a perfect design stand in the way of what works. In the grand scheme of ROI, ugly marketing can be beautiful.

Now, help us add #6 to this list. What ugly, yet effective pieces of marketing collateral have you recently come across?


Originally published Dec 16, 2013 3:00:00 PM, updated January 18 2023