Category Archives: Adverts explained

Adverts Explained: Anglia Ruskin University

I saw this poster on the tube on the other day. It couldn’t help but catch my eye. These are the happiest, most excited and fulfilled people I’ve ever seen! My future starts here, you say? I had to go in for a closer inspection.

ruskin1. Joy: Those beaming faces say more about the results of education than any prospectus ever could. Strength through learning! And the excellent teeth displayed by all the students tell us that the fees at Anglia Ruskin are not so prohibitive you’d have to forget about cosmetic dentistry for three years.

2. I have in my hand a piece of paper: But what does it say? Perhaps these students share a house and have just used university facilities to print out copies of their cleaning rota.  Perhaps they have been photocopying their arses. Perhaps they are applying to go on Deal Or No Deal. We will quite literally never know. Note however that the paper is held in the right hand for women, and the left hand for men.

3. Dress code: Women may wear any shoes at Anglia Ruskin, but otherwise a strict dress code of blue jeans and a scoop neck top should be observed. It’s not clear whether chinos and a checked shirt are as rigid a uniform for men, as we can only see one guy, but it would make good practical sense.

4. Jan 2013 Starts APPLY NOW: The thing is, when you’re buying media space, they’ll offer you all sorts. A free week here, a month’s run-on for half price there… Before you commit to anything, take a good hard look at your ad and ask yourself if anything on it would look silly if it stayed up for a couple of extra months. There.

5. Leaping: Clearly, the higher the leap the greater the joy. There are various levels of elevation on show here, from tentative to fully airborne. The most enthusiastic is the unseen fifth student – ah yes, had you noticed her*? All we see is a foot on one side of the lead student and an arm on the other, like a botched attempt at B*Witched’s Rollercoaster dance routine. Yet this shadowy figure is the one most stimulated by her degree prospects. Who IS she? (*Yes obviously it’s a woman, as the paper is held in the right hand.)

6. YOUR FUTURE STARTS HERE: It’s great to look at a poster and know that your life has changed with immediate effect. Even if you don’t apply to Anglia Ruskin University, your destiny will now take a different course, subtly or otherwise. We’ve all seen Sliding Doors. And look at me. Last week I could never have imagined myself sat here making things up about an out-of-date university poster. No actually I could.

7. Psalm 16: Intriguing. The makers of the poster couldn’t have known that someone would write “Psalm 16” on it at Upper Holloway, and yet here it is. Authorial intent aside, anyone seeing the poster will, like me, see the addendum too and then find it linked with Anglia Ruskin University in their mind. So what’s the significance of this psalm?

Well it’s a psalm of David, that’s a good start. “Keep me safe my God, for in you I have refuge,” it opens. “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing.” To be honest that puts a bit of a downer on the rest of the poster. Perhaps you’ve got this far down and are already thinking how happy you’ll be starting, say, a foundation degree in Equine Science with Rehabilitation Therapies. Then Psalm 16 comes along and points out that nothing matters except God – it may as well walk into your house and shit in your bath.

“Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more,” it hectors, clearly singling out the students on the poster as they race down that corridor, hellbound. “You make known to me the path of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence” – so we can forget everything we’ve just learned about education being the path to joy. It ends “…with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” And we know what that means – a female student with a cleaning rota.

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Adverts explained: John Lewis – Never Knowingly Undersold

HI I’M A PLUCKY OUTGOING YOUNG WOMAN FROM 1925 LOOKING FOR A POTENTIAL RELATIONSHIP OR A BIT OF BARNEYMUGGING WITH A KEEN 2012 DADDY

Gosh I bet society’s changed a lot since your day, I’m not sure we could ever make it work!

NOT REALLY, MANY CORE VALUES AND EXPERIENCES ARE THE SAME, ESPECIALLY THOSE ESPOUSED BY THE JOHN LEWIS BRAND

Why are you shouting by the way?

I’M USING A TELEGRAPH MACHINE STOP

Stop what?

DON’T START THAT

Culture has changed so much since your day! We won’t have any common reference points!

I THINK YOU’LL FIND THAT IF YOU’RE MIDDLE CLASS AND CAN AFFORD NICE THINGS FROM JOHN LEWIS, NOTHING CHANGES ALL THAT MUCH

Fair.

WHAT’S THAT MUSIC YOU’VE GOT ON IN 2012?

It’s Paloma Faith covering INXS. It encapsulates the cuteness of how our time-crossed lovers’ feelings are different but the same.

WOULDN’T AN ILL-ADVISED DUBSTEP VERSION OF THE CHARLESTON BE A BETTER FIT FOR OUR TIMEZONES?

It wouldn’t wash with the Mumsnet crowd. But you’ve got Doop to look forward to in 70 years!

SO HOW SHALL WE WORK THIS?

Like Gary and Phoebe in Goodnight Sweetheart maybe? Unless Gary ever checked on Phoebe’s gravestone in the present day. I don’t think he did. Oh! Or like Gideon and Edith in The Invisibles!

I THINK GIDEON DID IT WITH HER WHEN SHE WAS AN OLD LADY IN THE 1990s TOO

I’m not sure about that babes. Hang on I’ll check if there was something in Torchwood.

TORCHWOOD?

Oh no you’re dumping me aren’t you.

DON’T BE SILLY DARLING. JOHN LEWIS! WE’VE GOT THE CHRISTMAS CAMPAIGN TO THINK OF…

Adverts explained: Olympic tie-ins part 2

‘This is the big one!’ blurts Boris Johnson’s recorded message wherever you go on London’s transport network at the moment. And with the Games upon us, many more Olympic-themed adverts have appeared since my first round-up. Have they got any better at reflecting the core Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect?

TAMPAX – “no tampax no glory”

EXCELLENCE: Tampax Pearl offers body-fit expansion and ‘leak upgrade’. It’s all very well but everyday sanitary protection is one of the most mundane activities yet to have an Olympic sheen forced upon it. 3/5

FRIENDSHIP: Friendship between nations is sorely tested here, as our plucky British high-jumper faces off against an American Mother Nature. 0/5

RESPECT: Mother Nature never gets to deliver that little red gift she’s holding, which I’m going to go out on a limb and say represents menstruation. In which case are Tampax claiming they can stop periods from starting altogether? Confusing. 2/5

Total: 5/15 [link]

GILLETTE: “GREAT STARTS”

EXCELLENCE: Yes, it’s another boring everyday product. But this one’s got flag-bearer Chris Hoy, who’s a 3x gold medallist and a Sir, as the ad’s eager to remind us. 4/5

FRIENDSHIP: Hard to evoke team spirit in the solitary world of shaving. And so they don’t. 0/5

RESPECT: Chris Hoy’s got a very square face, hasn’t he. The subliminal message here is ‘A smooth shave even if you’ve got a head shaped like an occasional table!’ Good work. 4/5

8/15 [link]

SUBWAY: “TRAIN HARD EAT FRESH”

EXCELLENCE: I liked this advert because it was a good example of a brand that’s not actually affiliated with the Olympics carefully getting around the rules by featuring British athletes and avoiding 2012 buzzwords.  5/5

FRIENDSHIP: The ad featured some pretty awful banter between Anthony Ogogo and Holly Bleasdale about whether to have jalapenos on their sandwiches or not. But still, good-natured. 3/5

RESPECT: Sadly we’re now in a ‘blackout period’ which means the ad’s been taken down – Olympic competitors can’t be seen promoting anything non-sponsored while the Games are on. Still, I happened to have some pictures of Anthony lying around so all’s not lost. 3/5

Total: 11/15

BRITISH AIRWAYS – “LONDON CALLING”

EXCELLENCE: ‘London Calling‘? Really? Lyrics about war, and truncheons, and the underworld? Not to mention ‘phoney Beatlemania’, a pretty savage indictment of a tourist’s view of England if ever I heard one. Best of all, in an ad promoting air travel: ‘Engines stop running, but I have no fear.’ They haven’t thought this through. 0/5

FRIENDSHIP: As the plane trundles around on the busy streets of London we can only imagine the horrible consequences. Not shown: that milkman getting sucked into the jet engine like the man in the first episode of Lost. Or Westminster bridge collapsing under the plane’s weight, sending everyone plummeting to their deaths. SADFACE 0/5

RESPECT: The tagline is ‘Don’t Fly. Support Team GB.’ British Airways are basically saying they’re making so much money out of people travelling to the Olympics that they don’t need us any more. What a massive fuck-you.  0/5

Total: 0/15 [link]

BT INFINITY: “HOLA”

EXCELLENCE: This house of broadband-guzzling students has been the biggest bane on the ad break since, well since the last godawful BT ‘family’. I can’t verify if BT fibreoptic speeds are any good these days, what with having switched providers years ago because they were so shit, but the ad does make it look impressive. 1/5

FRIENDSHIP: Global understanding be damned. Latina girls are all tricksy vixens, laying on their feminine wiles to get free internet. And British boys have only two things on their minds – sex and custard creams. Actually that last bit’s fair. 2.5/5

RESPECT: They actually use the BT hub as a metaphor for cock. 0/5

Total: 3.5/15 [link]

THE AWARDS

  • Bronze: Gillette
  • Silver: Tampax
  • Gold: Subway (This blog endorses wily underdogs. And nice arms.)

Adverts explained: Olympic tie-ins

The Olympics are coming to Britain! Oh have you heard already? Either way they’re about to become impossible to ignore. Advertisers have been clambering over each other to get an Olympic endorsement and the results of their efforts are starting to take over screens now. So how are Britain’s ads shoehorning in reflecting the core Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect?

HOLIDAY INN – “STAY YOU”

EXCELLENCE: Holiday Inn are helping to run the athletes’ village at London 2012 and Shanaze Reade is 4x World BMX Champion, so that’s all fair enough. 4/5

FRIENDSHIP: Shanaze appears very much as a lone wolf in this ad. We don’t see any evidence of teamwork or global understanding. 0/5

RESPECT: Is Shanaze showing respect to Holiday Inn when she rides her bike through the corridors? Or “sneaks thirds at breakfast”? No, no she clearly isn’t. 0/5

Total: 4/15 [link]

VISA: “Flow Faster”

EXCELLENCE: Well you can’t accuse them of just jumping on the bandwagon. They’ve been on this campaign for over a year and with the main event getting closer the latest ad is an hysterical overload of London landmarks and British athletes (Usain Bolt’s been imported as the star, but we also see Louis Smith, Shanaze Reade (again), Khalid Yafai, Phillips Idowu, Aaron Cook and Stefanie Reid). Equating one of the fastest men in the world with the convenience of Visa’s new contactless card system is fair enough I suppose, but “paying for things” isn’t exactly an Olympian ideal. 3/5

FRIENDSHIP: Lots of athletes hanging out together – on the bus, at the barber’s – is a decent way of conveying “team spirit”. Sadly though, Britain’s welcome to Usain Bolt appears frosty at best: the man he races across London takes perverse glee in outsmarting him at every turn. 2/5

RESPECT: Respect for the rules and regulations of the Games is openly flouted here as Usain and the starter pistol man both turn up at the track with seconds to spare. It boggles the mind how many pre-race processes have been skipped or overlooked. If it’s any comfort, a Bolt victory in these circumstances would presumably be ruled void. 0/5

5/15 [link]

ADIDAS: “TAKE THE STAGE”

EXCELLENCE: Adidas have never made a bad advert so there’s nothing to take the piss out of here. And their product is the most relevant of all. 5/5

FRIENDSHIP: Another ad in which you can’t move for stars hanging out together, whether sporting, musical or Keith Lemon. 4/5

RESPECT: Wretch 32’s rap is all about making something of yourself. This zero-to-hero narrative is only slightly undercut when he brings millonaire’s daughter Stella McCartney into it. 3/5

Total: 12/15 [link]

BRITISH AIRWAYS – “TO FLY. TO SERVE.”

EXCELLENCE: A classy piece of advertising which refrains from using the word Olympics or any athletic imagery or stars. The focus is on how BA will bring the world to London in 2012, with the commentary soundtrack left to evoke the big event. 4/5

FRIENDSHIP: Nice use of flags to suggest a closeknit global community coming together. 3/5

RESPECT: Yes, it – oh sorry I’ve dozed off. 3/5

Total: 10/15 [link]

OLAY: “Challenge what’s possible”

EXCELLENCE: On the one hand Jessica Ennis is a world champion heptathlete with an MBE for her troubles. On the other hand moisturiser is as unsporty and unachievey a product as you can imagine, despite some guff on the voiceover about how “daily discipline” is important to both. Actually I’m secretly impressed with how they’ve done that. Anyway on this evidence, the change from ‘Ulay’ to ‘Olay’ a decade ago now just seems like a cynical advance move to make their brandname sound marginally more Olympic. 2/5

FRIENDSHIP: Jessica is seen training alone in an empty stadium and only reacting to other people when the camera bulbs are flashing towards her lovely moisturised face at an evening do. 0/5

RESPECT: Well, moisturising shows some respect for your body I suppose. And, as for some reason the only video of this ad I can find is an adjunct to a Mail Online article about Jessica, if you do click through you can read for instance how Jessica confesses that she always ensures her skin is clean and moisturised, and insists that she never leaves the house without mascara and eye liner on. 2/5

Total: 4/15 [link]

THE AWARDS

  • Bronze: Visa
  • Silver: British Airways
  • Gold: Adidas

Adverts explained: Philadelphia

Philadelphia have lost it! Everyone knows you can’t make a Thai green curry with cream cheese. Plus, it looks disgusting. But can they convince us otherwise?

Don't be frightened! It's NOT Cthulhu. It's simply a Thai green curry. Apparently.

In the 90s, Philadelphia’s ads featured Sara Crowe and Ann Bryson in a series of hilarious cheese-related escapades. The campaign ran for the best part of ten years, before viewers were shocked to see the ditsy, dairy-loving pair ripped apart by wild dogs in a blood-soaked finale being phased out. It was the snack (and lighter meal option!) of choice for everyone struggling to escape the crushing horror of office life with broad humour and a dollop of cheesy goo.

But in 2012 Philadelphia is more, much more than that. It’s the magical meal ingredient that can bind any dish – and any family! – together. “My biggest challenge is trying to find something easy that everyone enjoys eating,” says Mum, and we hear from the kids that one of them doesn’t like vegetables and one of them doesn’t like curry. Mum’s deliciously cruel solution to this conundrum is to serve a CURRY full of VEGETABLES. You have to applaud her ingenuity.

Of course, we’re led to believe that Philadelphia will make this concoction creamy and appetising, but if you’ve made it past the terrifying picture at the top of this post you’ve seen the truth of that for yourself. So what makes this family so perverse? The artfully messy room is supposed to make them seem normal and approachable but look at that pile of board games. I grew up in a board game family myself and there’s a particular frame of mind that goes with it: you learn to be sociable and competitive, but hanging over it all is a crushing awareness of the cruelty of fate. The dice roll and we find that in games, as in life, most of us end up losers.

And they’re playing Cluedo. Cluedo! The most evil, laborious, badly-structured and mind-numbing game of all time. And they’re all moving their pieces at the same time! It’s like they want to punish themselves.

I have to conclude that this family has got everything it deserves. Including their disgusting curry. If Philadelphia was once the condiment of choice for comedy secretaries, it’s now the magic ingredient for the white family who’re happy to have a jar of green Thai paste in the house but who’d find buying and opening a tin of coconut milk just that little bit too ethnic.

Adverts Explained: Match.com

Dating has never been so twee. What’s the best way of finding a soulmate in 2011 according to the Match.com adverts?

1. Live in an affluent neighbourhood

Just look at that music shop where the couple in the first ad meet. There are no amps piled high in the window, no boxes spilling over with wires and second-hand mixers, no gangs of teenagers trying to bash out something by Enter Shikari in the background — nothing, in short, that’d make it commercially viable. Shops like this, that rely on floppy-haired trustafarians dropping in to impulse-buy a bongo set, just don’t exist in down-to-earth neighbourhoods. So move on up if you’re looking for love.

2. REDEFINE ANTIQUITY AND INVENT YOUR OWN RETRO

“I like old movies – like Godfather 3!” Well I’m not the first to criticise that line. Even if we allow that an “old movie” can come from as recently as 1990, “old” isn’t a genre, so liking one doesn’t mean you’ll automatically like another. Is she really thinking “Godfather 3? I love films from twenty years ago too! At last someone who’ll watch Kindergarten Cop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with me!” No, no she isn’t.

2. REJECT THE MAINSTREAM AND STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD – BUT NOT TOO MUCH!

“It’s not considered the best one – but that’s just me!” THAT’S JUST ME. Oh it’s all very well trying to show what an individual you are by liking something that’s not as well liked as other things. Good luck with that. But the thing about Godfather 3 is  that it only really has any resonance, or makes much sense, if you’re already a fan of the earlier, better-loved films. I may as well walk into a bongo shop tomorrow and start singing “I like the Nightmare on Elm Street films! Especially Wes Craven’s New Nightmare! It’s not considered the best one, but I like the play of metafictional ideas and THAT’S JUST ME.”

What he’s basically saying is that he likes self-involved narratives. Which is a good job because he’s living in one.

4. STALK, STALK, STALK

“Girl on the platform smiled. Best smile he’s seen in a long while!” Quite by accident, the couple in the first advert simultaneously played a chord of D in a music shop. But the fella in the second ad is leaving nothing to chance. He takes his ukulele with him everywhere he goes, the better to sing at anyone he fancies. How many other women have suffered his over-descriptive serenades while going about their daily business? “The girl in front of me buying Canesten at Superdrug’s got such a pretty bob”? “The girl being sick on the nightbus has the sort of thick calves I’d like wrapped around my neck”? The mind boggles.

5. STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW

“She must have been about… 26? 28? 28.” It’s good of Match to be so honest and specific about their target market. I’ve seen the phenomenon myself, as straight friends who are still single as they approach 30 go completely apeshit in their frantic search for a mate. A well chosen segment. And we can see from the ads that it helps to be white and middle class too. Well, OK, you can have a Northern accent, but for God’s sake dress a bit smartly if you do. We don’t want anyone thinking you drive a fork lift truck or something.

6. LIE

“She was a natural blonde! [no] She wasn’t a natural blonde, but that’s what made him fond…” Taking these ads as a dramatisation of the selection process on the dating site, we can infer that you go through ticking preferences for “likes old movies”, “26–28” and so on. So what does it mean that our platform minstrel changes his preference from natural blonde to dyed blonde so quickly? Is it her sheepishness in admitting to it that he likes? A sense of power over her? Or are Match basically saying that really girls, men don’t care what colour your hair is as long as you play with it? I suggest we all sign up and find out.

Adverts Explained: Flora Cuisine

Authenticity. Yes, I know, COME BACK. It’s usually such a joyless, patronising sheen to put onto a piece of work, and you won’t generally find me paying service to it. But fake authenticity? That’s proper entertainment.

Advertisers ache to convince us that their products are enjoyed by real people rather than actors and on that basis Flora have secured the services of a celebrity’s actual dear old sweet old funny old working class mum.

So we see that Vernon Kay has popped round to see his ma Gladys. The first problem is that she seems a bit dazed. I’m sure she’s a nice lady, but some people just aren’t suited to being in front of the cameras. No, wait, shut me up! In theory this should help with authenticity, as it’s obvious that she’s really his mum and not an actress. Although that hasn’t stopped people clogging up internet forums asking the question anyway. Well to be honest, if you really think they’d hire a performer whose delivery of the closing strapline was quite so downbeat and lacklustre, you need to go back ten squares and acquaint yourself with a few more ad voiceovers.

Then there’s the script. They really have done their best to incorporate naturalistic pet names and what have you (“Hiya beauts!”) but at some point someone has to say the sort of thing that only people in adverts ever say (“45% less saturated fat than olive oil!”) and it all falls apart. Not to mention that uncomfortable feeling of nudity you get when you can clearly see where the various components of the ad have come from. (“Focus group think the product looks weird!” “No problem, we’ll have Vernon think the same but change his mind when he sees it in action!”)

But what really scuppers this ad’s documentary status is the idea that a Northern mum cooking for her son — especially when she doesn’t get to see him all that often because he’s swanning round that London — is going to make him a tiny vegetarian stir fry when he turns up. It just wouldn’t happen. Even if she is trying to “look after his little ticker” (to which: eww), she’s going to feed him to within an inch of his life. Being health conscious in the Northwest is a simple matter of serving your pie with oven chips rather than chip pan chips.

Of course, the most famous celebrity’s mum in adland is Davina McCall’s from the Garnier Nutrisse ads. Initially heard in phone calls, she soon became a disembodied voice that Davina could hear as she walked about her flat. This left Davina’s hands free to run through her exquisitely nourished hair, but made the whole thing reminiscent of those awkward moments when Wonder Woman would secretly ‘rub her ruby’ in her apartment in order to communicate with her mother on Paradise Island.

When it emerged that in real life Davina and her alcoholic mum had been estranged for years, Davina was forced to clarify that she was actually talking to her stepmum-that-she-calls-mum in the adverts. Then her birth mum died, Davina suffered tabloid censure for shunning the funeral, and those jaunty “ALL your greys, Mum!” ads were running the whole time. That’s the trouble with authenticity — real life is messy, not always nice, and rarely conforms to the simple narratives that adverts demand.

So would we call both these campaigns spectacular failures on their own terms? Perhaps. But on my terms — the happy shallows where fact and fiction splash confusingly around together like dolphins — they’re to be treasured.