Monday, 24 March 2008

Commercials: The Good, the Bad, and the Burberry

You could say that watching Mad Men (along with recently taking a copywriting course for work) has made me more aware of commercials and what they're trying to achieve, but really, the inspiration for this post came from one of the worst ads I've ever seen -- not a commercial, actually, but a print ad on the tube that made me so angry that I had to share it with our small corner of the internet in hope of bringing its purveyors to fist-filled justice.

But first, some good ads. Obviously I don't get to (or have to) see most of the commercials from America anymore (except the ones that get famous and end up on YouTube), so this will be UK-focused, but I've found videos of all the ads in question. The good ones tend to be few and far between, perhaps for obvious reasons -- most commercials seem to set out to be annoying, most likely so that you'll remember the product (e.g., the ubiquitous Sheila's Wheels ads -- Australia, you have a lot of explaining to do, beginning with why you think it's acceptable to use the word "bonzer"). If they're not annoying to begin with, they are by the time you've heard them 400 times. I'm not going to go all Hidden Persuaders here and delve into the subliminal psychological techniques advertisers use, but it is terrifying to think that I can still recite the Oscar Mayer jingle by heart, and yet I can't remember the full text of a single poem. Sure, the jingle's better and more accessible than half of what John Ashbery wrote, but then again, he didn't have weiners as his muse. Or did he?

A rare good one that got particularly famous a couple years ago was the Sony Bravia ad that featured a lovely song by Jose Gonzalez (one of the only good ones he has, I'm afraid -- and it turns out it was a cover as well. I hope you're getting residuals from Sony, Jose) and a whole bunch of bouncy balls rolling down a San Francisco street. I think this ad got so popular because one, it's beautiful, and two, who hasn't wanted to dump a truckload of bouncy balls down a hill and see what happened? According to Wikipedia, source of all internet knowledge, David Letterman did it on his show before the ad ever happened, which doesn't surprise me, given his propensity for smashing watermelons and making guys in stilts jump over cars. Anyway, here's the ad, for anyone who hasn't seen it:

It's a mesmerizing ad; every time it was on, we'd stop to watch it. I even had a picture of it as our laptop's desktop for awhile. We still haven't bought a Sony Bravia tv, though (but not for lack of coveting). Sony tried to recapture the magic with a few similar ads, but the idea was really a one-off stroke of inspiration; the others seem a little pathetic by comparison.

More recently, we've found a new set of ads to love -- Teletext holidays. This is the first one we saw and still my personal favorite:

The rest can be found here. They're a world away from most ads that feature animals (see: the weird Volkswagen ads featuring a singing CGI dog), though I have to admit that they're still pretty anthropomorphic, since a visual representation of our cats' brains would probably look more like this:

Now on to bad ads. I will warn you ahead of time: this first one features Joss Stone rooting down her cleavage for a candy bar.

Joss Stone is so authentic! She's just like a real person who rehearses in a professional studio while singing an insipid, supposedly ad-libbed tune about how great Flakes are! (I know I will inspire outrage by saying this, but Flakes are disgusting anyway. They taste like chocolate ash.) Poor old Joss is already a national laughingstock after her Brit Awards appearance, where she displayed a poor sense of humor and an even worse American accent -- and now she's managed to annoy the Cadbury-loving public. Big mistake. As we will see later, no one can resist chocolate (even suspect ashy chocolate), so whose reputation is going down? Not flaky tempting chocolate's. No, it will be flaky pseudo-hippie warbler Joss Stone's.

Our next awful ad also has to do with chocolate, although that's not the product advertised -- instead it is Lynx body spray, previously seen making misogynist commercials about how Lynx will make women writhe uncontrollably with lust when they smell it (I'm sure Lynx does make women writhe uncontrollably; it's just that it's not with lust). What has lovely sweet delicious chocolate ever done to anyone? Besides this:

I don't know where to begin hating Lynx for this commercial. With the implication that women are such helpless creatures that a whiff of an "erotic" smell will make them sex up a nebbishy loser (and the matey, wink-nudge tone that comes with -- hey, it's like GHB, but you won't go to jail!)? Because of the implication that chocolate is such catnip to women that they will turn into drooling maniacs willing to do anything for a piece of it? Or perhaps the best part -- the fact that the women are eating pieces of his body and that's not incredibly creepy and disgusting. Yay cannibalism! Mm, that viscera was so chocolatey delicious. Try the bone -- it's got all that gooey marrow inside! Yes, it's chocolate, but the guy's walking around handing parts of his body over to be devoured. We also get the oral sex implication at the picnic in the park (finally she'll suck it, am I right, bro?), though that turns out to be something even more horrifying: she's swirling a strawberry in his belly button!!! There is not enough GAHHHH in the world for that. I think the thing that annoys me most about the Lynx ads, though -- along with the Nuts ads that ran recently -- is the implication that this is all good-natured fun, and if you're a woman and you don't find it funny, you're just a humorless feminist bitch. I hope those women rip his chocolatey Cadbury's eggs off.

This next one was suggested by Admiral Neck (as was the Lynx one), because this model has recently become inexplicably ubiquitous in the UK press -- she's usually pictured on the society pages in weird stripy dresses draping herself over people like a banded wombat. Admiral Neck hated her in particular, above all the other weird-looking models who become inexplicably famous, because of her "awful pill-shaped head" and faux-punk style. [Hate might be too strong a word. How about "severe twitch-inducing dislike powerful enough to make me scream obscenities at the TV"? - Admiral Neck] We also both hate her listless underwear-based dancing, which looks like an updated version of how everyone in The Great Gatsby danced (what's up with the horizontal arm slide? Is that how you dance without spilling your gin and tonic?).

I have to admit that I kind of love the way the announcer says "Burberry": she pronounces it "Buuuuuurrrrrbry" in the most bored, haughty parody of a posh voice ever. The worst thing about this ad, though? The model is named Agyness Deyn. Yes, that's right. Agyness. Deyn. (Real name: Laura Hollins. God, she could have just fixed it by calling herself Lho'Rah HyolLinS.)

And now we come to the worst ad of all. An ad so vile that we both tried to take pictures of it but couldn't, so had to scour the intertubes for it. Turns out we're not the only ones who hate it.

If you can't read the text, it goes: "Chris had a long face. The wife wanted a new family car and this had the potential to blow a huge hole in his finances, not to mention the other plans he had for his money. A little bird told him to get down to Cargiant, where he bought a quality used car that kept the wife more than happy and saved himself a tidy little sum in the process. Just enough for a wicked weekend in Paris...with the girlfriend, tweet tweet!"

Ha ha! Adultery is hilarious! Who is this ad trying to appeal to, actually? Cheap adulterers who like trumpeting their conquests to the world? Smug assholes with faces made for punching? It's got the chummy, matey vibe of the Lynx ad ("the wife," keeping financial decisions safely away from the hands of women, who only use money to buy purses and shiny baubles), but then it suddenly hurdles over any semblance of reason into insane lechery ("tweet tweet"? WTF?). The ad fails on all levels -- it could only appeal to a very niche audience of douchebags, and everyone else who sees it will be horrified and avoid Cargiant forever. (I can't help but think their salesmen all look and act exactly like the Chad in that ad.) All I know is, if I ever see that actor in real life, I'm going to kick him right in the Cadbury's.


sjwoo said...

That cat ad is very cute -- I love how the one on the left does look like it's totally paranoid.

I actually found the Lynx ad funny, but maybe because I'm just a dumb guy. Though I still think the commercial is far from a success, because at the end of it, I'll always remember it as "that commercial where the girls are eating that chocolate guy." So a few months from now, I'll think, "Where's that Lynx chocolate bar?"

A better ad they did was the "Billions" ad, where they used CGI to have an army of bikini-clad women run after a guy. Their ads have always been for mouthbreathers, but at least that one had the "wow" factor.

That Joss Stone ad is -- yeah, it's just embarrassing. For everyone involved. The worst part is how she feigns such earnestness (though I suppose some blame should go to the director/writer of the commercial, Stone's agent, etc.). If they could've even had a little bit of self-parody in there...maybe if someone walks in and says to her, "Ummm...are you really singing about a chocolate bar?" Anything but this.

If you miss seeing US ads, have you checked the adblitz channel on YouTube? We're in agreement regarding their #1 choice -- it was without a doubt the funniest (and smartest) ad during the big game. I wasn't thrilled with 2, 3, or 4, but I also liked 5 a lot. The other E*Trade baby commercial is here.

Masticator said...

Yes! Loving the cats Teletext ads too. The Scaredy-Cat one was the only one I'd seen, so thanks for that link! Is it Martin Freeman on voiceover duty?

I must admit I do like the Lynx ads (or have done, up until the bizarre chocolate man one). Mainly because Lynx is such a cheap nasty shitass brand (surely not used by anyone over 14) that pretending it's some sort of seductive, female-overpowering Sex Panther fragrance represents both hilarious incongruity and breathtaking barefaced cheek, and I think that deserves respect.

Good call on the Volkswagen singing dog - I described that as VW's worst ad ever the other day. From a company that brought us such iconic commercials as Changes and Bollocks, it's unforgivable.

And any fule kno that it's spelled Agyness Deyn but it's pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove.

More! More ads commentary! More!

Canyon said...

Misogynists, the both of you!! Okay, maybe not, and I do appreciate that there's some knowing parody in the Lynx ads. I just worry that their target audience doesn't see the tongue-in-cheek aspect (which, come on, is still kind of gross) and just comes away with the Sex Panther aspect. Well, I guess that 60 percent of the time, it works every time, so maybe they have something.

I will definitely be back with the ad commentary. I realized while doing this how many ads there are out there that I absolutely hate. Luckily new horrible ads are being produced every day, so my hate quota will never fall short (or something like that; you know what I mean).

Btw, I like that first ad on the adblitz channel too. If only my stained clothing were that entertaining!

Masticator said...

To which Nuts ads were you referring? I quite liked their "Women! Don't expect any help on a Thursday" campaign. They didn't diminish women, they suggested (erroneously, but hey) that the mag was an engrossing must-read for men, and they said THURSDAY in big loud tones so you couldn't forget when it came out. (Except later it was changed to Wednesday. And then Tuesday?) Thumbs up all round. Did they switch to a far more offensive campaign that I missed?

Canyon said...

It was actually that series of ads I was referring to. It wasn't horribly offensive or anything, but it was annoying -- the implication that women are totally inept at any kind of household task (drilling into a wall, starting a car, opening cans of paint [!!]). And the smirking tone of it -- ha ha, aren't women useless (but sexy)! Meanwhile, men like boobies (and guns and cars)! I'm sure it appealed precisely to their target audience, but it had a smugness to it that made me want to slap everyone involved.

Masticator said...

Sure, they're dumb, but they're ads! I wasn't going to give the agency my firstborn or anything, but I thought the ads were effective and nowhere near as offensive as you might have expected. And you know full well that women are inept at all household tasks, except ironing!

Three least favourite ads at the moment:

1. VW singing dog. Get off my screen!

2. Just For Men. “Why did I start using Just For Men? Because she liked grey hair on men... until it was on me.” Yes, my wife is a shallow vapid whore, and I am terrified of growing old alone. Grey hair means the end of your life is nigh. Buy this product!

3. The Foster's lager one that appropriates Violent Femmes’ “Blister In The Sun” and changes the words thus:

When I'm out walking
I strut my stuff
And I'm so HUNG OUT
I FLY LIKE a kite
I just might
Stop to check you out

Yes, because we wouldn't want any oblique drug references in your advert for ALCOHOL! And what in the name of almighty fuck does “I’m so hung out” mean?

Canyon said...

"but I thought the ads were effective and nowhere near as offensive as you might have expected."

!! You're right, I should hand out a Nuts Award -- I will give it to Lynx and call it Best Achievement in Being Nowhere Near As Offensive As You Might Have Expected. They may be effective as ads targeted to their audience, but does that absolve them from blame? No! Never! Attica etc!

And obviously you are just bitter because you feel the Just for Men ad's painful sting of truth. Look how much George Clooney has suffered!!

Admiral Neck said...

I need some of this Just For Men stuff, now that you both mention it. My wings are out of control. I'm beginning to look more like Reed Richards than anyone should.

At the risk of pitching the Nuts thing into a full-on flame war, I have to say I'm siding with Canyon over their ads. I got the extreme rage whenever they came on, as much for the smug winking at the camera over how clever they were for playing with outdated gender stereotypes as for the stereotypes themselves. If there's one thing I hate more than sexism, it's gloating over politically incorrect posturing. It's why I can never truly warm to Jeremy Clarkson, as much as I like Top Gear, and especially because I don't believe he believes anything he says. Except that the Bugatti Veyron is the most beautiful man-made object in the world. Because it is. (VROOOM!)

As for the Lynx adverts, they make me want to vomit on the mini-Don-Draper who came up with it. And burn down his Hoxton shagpad. Bleh HATE! Don't like the song either. It's one of those rare ads where absolutely everything about it pisses me off.

Ads that I like? Any car ad that squanders billions of pounds on CGI duststorms billowing away in the wake of the product. I'm weak like that. There's a great one at the moment set on a stage with sheets and ominous opera singers, but, to prove that the ads don't really work that well, I have no idea which model of car they are promoting. Pretty, though.

Masticator said...

Are you seriously suggesting that being not as offensive as you might have expected isn't a significant achievement in advertising?

decca said...

I know I come in late, but I have to second your disgust over the Cargiant ad. There's something particularly gross about the way it celebrates pennypinching - "I saved half on my adulterous liaison!" I hope both your ladies dump your cheap ass, chinful wonder.

Cargiant also gets bonus points for its other ad, with the guy who's attempting to pop his eyes out of his head because he's SO EXCITED over Cargiant. Nothing offensive there, he's just scary-looking.