Advertising is a strange world. A skillful combination of psychology, creativity and bullshit designed to make us to aspire to own the product we see. When this phenomenon started, it contained no frills, no subliminal messaging, it was straight and to the point. “BUY THIS!” It screamed, while thrusting the image of a happy family unit consuming said product onto our screens.
Slowly however the adverts have become as famous as the thing they’re supposed to be promoting. Non-smokers swooned at the Marlborough man, while you didn’t have to be an aficionado of repulsive powdered mash potato to enjoy the Smash aliens.
Advertisers realized that Joe Public was more discerning than they perceived, and that a softer approach was needed. They weren’t so much manically flogging a product like a Cockney fruit stall owner, they were subtly getting us to see their brand as a whole in a positive light. Nike created fantastical sporting scenarios, Guinness gave us surfing horses, Cadburys a drumming gorilla and Sugar Puffs brought us a crack-addled big furry yellow lunatic with ADHD and the voice of Louis Armstrong… To each their own.
These adverts worked because they were memorable. They didn’t make you impulsively want their product at all costs, but when you saw it in a shop you’d probably think of it favorably in comparison to a competitor.
Anyhow, those were the good ones. But they are diamonds in the rubble, lost in a sea of exasperating crap. Quite a few brands seem intent on making any association with their products a feeling of overriding anger.
When I speak of bad adverts, weirdly the really budget ones aren’t those that come to mind. It’s not the Admirals, the price comparison sites or the ambulance-chasing lawyers of this world that really grate. The trouble arises when an advertising firm places mislaid faith in what they perceive to be a good idea.
I mean look at that endless series of tedious adverts that BT have plagued our screens with. First you had My Family and Love Actually star Kris Marshall involved in possibly the most joyless and dull relationship of all time on our screens.
It must be sad for an actor of Marshall’s ability to be described (as he is on Wikipedia) as “best known for playing Nick Harper in My Family, Adam in BT Group adverts from 2005-2011 and Dave in Citizen Khan.” Having never watched Citizen Khan, I cannot confirm it’s lack of quality, but the fact that it is listed as a lower accolade than his on-off advert relationship with the world’s most boring woman probably speaks volumes.
BT obviously failed to learn its lesson though, replacing this grindingly mundane storyline with an equally dislikable bunch of students (or at least I think they’re supposed to be students, the girl looks about 30) whose entire lives appear to revolve around their router.
To be honest, given that they are students and the internet appears to be their life, it seems implausible that not one storyline so far has involved the other two catching the weird, socially inept bloke watching YouPorn while surrounded by used tissues. That would be an impressive demonstration of the BT Home Hub’s download speed as well, so maybe that’s the next advert in the series.
It’s this search for familiarity that seems to be so uninspiring though, advertising firms aren’t so much flogging a dead horse as they bring out their billionth fucking Meerkat advert as soundly whipping the cobbles through a mush of pulped horsemeat. You know, the sort that you find between layers of lasagna at Findus. The public seem to like what they find familiar, and for those reasons the word “simples” has burrowed its way into the dictionary, while a fictional ‘autobiography’ of the meerkat in the advert depressingly topped the bestsellers charts at Christmas. This is why soaps are so popular, Mr Average yearns for more of the same, no matter whether or not he actually liked it in the first place.
Away from the silver screen though, and the baffling array of bad adverts still pollute our lives through their presence on Billboards.
I don’t know who is in charge of marketing for trendy French clothing brand “The Kooples”, but frankly (to quote a better man than I) they should be taken out and shot in front of their families. It took me over a year to work out that The Kooples was in fact a shop rather than the worst television show ever made. Look at the advert below and tell me that your reaction isn’t “Looks shit, think I’ll watch something else instead.”
Then there’s the insufferably frightful Match.com adverts that you see on the tube, in which seasoned daters offer insipid bits of advice on how to succeed on a date. Ranging from “I didn’t know what sort of shoe to wear for a country pub date” to “I asked my flatmate which shirt I should wear, she said NOT THE PINK ONE!!!” LOL ROFL.
The trouble with this sort of ‘experienced’ advice is that it leaves me with just one question: OK Mr “I always shave two days before a date to give me the perfect amount of stubble”, if the advice that you’re giving is so utterly flawless then how come you appear to still be single and dating?
Finally, there comes the simply disingenuous. Processed dough-clad faeces outlet Subway, who I suppose are stretching the truth in describing their produce as ‘sandwiches’ in the first place, ran a post-Olympics campaign in which gymnast Louis Smith and boxer Anthony Ogogo invited you to come and eat “where winners eat”.
Given that both Louis and Anthony were part of Team GB’s great efforts that summer, I can see the commercial benefit of getting them involved. But what’s so baffling about this campaign is that Louis and Anthony managed just two individual bronzes between them. This begs the question that, if these two eat at Subway, where do the actual winners eat? It’s not like there weren’t around 50 alternative GB athletes who actually DID win their events that summer.
Perhaps this is part of a sadder indictment of British culture, the celebration of the mediocre, but that is for another day. For now I shall continue to walk my path through a world of advertising mediocrity and shake my head in bafflement. I may be no Don Draper myself, but it appears that very few industry insiders are either.
by Harry Harland