Category Archives: Adverts explained

Adverts explained: Go Compare

Gio Compario is an alien supervillain. Since he first appeared in the Go Compare ads two years ago, most people’s reponse to the everpresent campaign is to howl or turn over or mute the telly, wailing about how much they hate the jingle. I suggest we be more vigilant. THE JINGLE IS A FRONT. We’ve all seen plenty of evil masterminds in film and tv over the years, and while we’re distracted by the music we’re overlooking the giveaway powers and attributes that Gio displays…


In his very first appearance, bounding into a coffee shop, Compario is mistrusted and ignored. But he demonstrates his powers with a high note that shakes the earth and rattles cups. And look at his appearance – the facial hair and the black, white and grey ensemble. We have seen this sort of thing before.


When we next meet him, his audience are more accepting. And he demonstrates the surprising ability to levitate, rising gracelessly into the air from the sunroof of an affordable car.


In the classic ‘Finishing School’ ad, Gio bursts unexpectedly from an incongruous empty wardrobe, much as though it were his TARDIS.


Compario’s alter-ego is mild-mannered opera singer Wynne Evans, who has just topped the classical charts with his debut album.


To convince two wary businessmen of his good intent, Gio – through some mass hypnotic technique? – compels a restaurantful of the rich and powerful to become just like him…


Running out of the ocean to greet a lonely desert island castaway, Gio conjures from nowhere some hula girls, a steel band and a Man Friday. The poor Crusoe figure is totally won over. But we see the truth of matters when the parrot backs nervously away from Compario’s approach. Eagle-eyed viewers will remember the earlier clip’s little white barking dog in the driveway. They do say that animals can sense evil.

And having done the groundwork, Gio finally unveils his most potent abilities:


Emerging from a sarcophagus during what appears to be a 1920s archaeological expedition to Egpyt, Gio assists in the disinterment of his “mummy”, essentially a female version of himself. She’s been sat Sutekh-like on a hard throne for, presumably, thousands of years. Different splinters of the same being, scattered throughout time? Or something more sinister?


And now, in a future that shows us even retrofuturist rocket captains will need insurance comparison websites, Gio appears as a giant sparkling angel and shows he has the ability, far beyond the levitation he once revealed, to launch himself into powered flight from the surface of an alien world. Breathing in a vacuum and flippant with it.

Readers, if you see this man, beware him. Don’t listen to his song. Don’t visit his website. Call for help. And you’ll thank your stars.

Adverts explained: Gergiev and the homeless xylophonist

Oh that’s a nice poster isn’t it. I’ve been seeing it here and abouts on the tube recently. Gergiev you say? Conducting some symphonies at the Barbican with the LSO? Great, that sounds lovely. But what’s that little story on the poster? Let’s take a closer look:

Well that’s quite something, isn’t it. Forever seeking out the truth in sound! How exciting. And imagine — imagine! — the great conductor stopping to listen to the music of a homeless man. I hope we’re suitably impressed. Although I suspect to be suitably impressed you’d need to be surprised to realise homeless people might be talented, and in fact are human beings.

Anyway, we don’t get to hear the end of the story.  I became intrigued. Was the street xylophonist scooped up by Gergiev and ushered into a glittering percussive career, in the time-honoured rags-to-riches fashion? No, as far as I’ve been able to find out, this did NOT happen. For all we know he’s still sleeping rough on the streets of Manhattan. Perhaps he has died.

But I did find the source of the story, a long profile piece on Gergiev by Alex Ross in the New Yorker.

Everything in Gergiev’s world is filtered through music. His ears perk up, like a cat’s, at any faintly musical sound. On a walk down Broadway in December, I watched him become distracted by a young homeless man who was irregularly banging on a xylophone. In a split second Gergiev analyzed the performance to be certain that he had not overlooked the xylophonist of tomorrow.

The most glaring difference is that we learn the guy was “irregularly banging on” the xylophone. It’s a slightly loaded phrase which implies that he was terrible, or at least that if he was any good, only Gergiev could have possibly discerned it. That’s a good distinction, which has gone missing from the ad version.

But one thing is clear from both sources: Gergiev’s analysis takes place instantly, in a split second. That doesn’t bode well, does it. He’s a busy man, as the New Yorker piece, with its lavish opening description of all the things he could have been doing while catching an hour’s sleep, makes clear. But still if the musician had shown any promise, he might have lingered for, well, ten seconds or so? And with the talk of his being distracted, I can only picture him striding down Broadway, his nose wrinkling briefly as he processes the noise, then turning to his companion and saying in a thick Russian accent “No, sorry, it’s pony.”

Adverts explained: Windows 7

“Windows gives me the family nature never could”

This advert, in which an everyday mum grows frustrated with her rubbish family photos and uses Windows to “swap in some smiles” might have passed me by if not for that chilling catchphrase. At most I might perhaps have made a playful comparison with the surgical head-swapping antics in HG Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau. But “Windows gives me the family nature never could”? It raises the most horrible of spectres and we must plunge into darker waters.

Let’s not suggest, though, that using Windows to create a vision of the perfect family is going to lead to a society founded on the hatcheries and conditioning centres seen in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Let’s try to avoid any comparison with Nazi Germany and the ‘enforced euthanasia’ of tens of thousands of the ‘imperfect’, or the forcible sterilisation of hundreds of thousands of the ‘undesired’, or the evitable eventual murder of millions of the ‘impure’.

And let’s not bring Davros into it, Doctor Who’s fictional scientist whose obsession with creating a genetically pure master race led him to destroy his own people. I can’t imagine the mum in the Windows advert doing THAT. All she wants is a photo she can share without embarrassment! IMAGINE if her friends saw her children acting like normal children. It’d be terrible.

Still, I work in marketing myself and I don’t have a moral high ground to clamber onto. And families becoming perfect in adverts is hardly a recent aspiration. So all that a sensible person can do is look at the details in the ad.

In both the UK and US versions, the daughter is called Jen. We’re not told whether this is short for Jennifer, Genetic or Eugenics. I suppose it could be any of them. And in the US version the second-named child is called Cody. But only a fool with the wildest of imaginations would take a monologue about “Jen texting, Cody sticking…” and mishear it as something to do with rewriting genetic code.

(In the UK version the second kid is called George, I expect it’s a reference to HG Wells, so we got off lightly. Mind you over here Mum thinks the family look ‘rubbish’ rather than just ‘unruly’. Mind you again, in the US version the family are dressed identically, which quintuples the creepiness factor.)

We can also clearly see next to the computer on Mum’s bookshelf a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. That’s an interesting novel to choose: one I like very much, and which has spawned an interesting essay about the silencing of unwanted portions of society.

The last thing we have to go on is that in order for Mum to implement her changes, she switches to a new, hidden computer, declaring “To the Cloud!” And as the ability to do a quick bit of photo editing has absolutely nothing to do with cloud computing, I’m just going to have to write the whole thing off as science fiction, stick The Stepford Wives on, and never go near another Microsoft product in my life.

Adverts explained: Asda Price Watch

Heather’s an ‘Asda colleague’ – we’re told that right up front. But she cloaks her intentions in a veneer of friendship: “I persuaded some of the other mums from the village school to do their weekly shopping at Asda!” Do they know she’s a ‘colleague’, these lonely, impressionable women?

"Come on girls, let's give it a go!"

Us geeks have a bit of a natural advantage, because we’ve grown up watching all kinds of wild shit on the telly and we’re alert to sinister manipulation when we see it. Heather reminds me of no end of severe, snappish villainesses from Doctor Who, the sort who were convinced they knew what was right for everyone and were prepared to enforce it.

Heather takes them to the supermarket AFTER DARK – perhaps it’s a winter teatime, although the prominent 24 hour sign suggests to me that she’s ushered them there in the middle of the night. “Right everybody, keep your receipts, don’t forget!” she commands loudly, in the middle of a busy checkout area, as if to say ‘There’s nothing hidden or strange about this! It’s perfectly normal!”

Moments later it’s revealed that Asda are keeping a record of everything everyone has bought anyway. With the girls around the computer, Heather entices them into revealing even more personal information to her overlords, by stressing how easy it is. Some of the girls affect to look puzzled, presumably because of their slow and simple village brains. And she grooms them individually, according to their desires: one gets a discount, one gets a bonus voucher.

Girls! She’s infiltrated your resistance cell, she’s getting her hand all the way up, and she’s going to play you like Sooty. But it’s too late, isn’t it. She has you now, doesn’t she.

She has you forever.