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.