I don’t have Sky + because I haven’t got round to the palaver of ringing up, being held in a queue, speaking to an operator, booking an installation date and then arranging to be home on that arranged date. As a result I don’t get to fast-forward through the commercial breaks and have to watch the ads. I’ve noticed of late that adverts have come full circle and so I thought I’d share my thoughts.
In the early days TV ads were patronising. Then for a while they tried to make us feel like we were really clever. But now they’re back to talking to us like we’re dicks again. I’ll try and explain what I mean.
In the fifties, adverts were known to be really cheesy. They were clumsy and shamelessly aspirational. You know the sort of thing:
Smoke these cigarettes and you’ll be more attractive to women!
Wear our after-shave and women will find you irresistible!
Drink our alcohol and you’ll end up not with your head down the lav but being seduced by a posh bird at a garden party!
I’m focusing on ads aimed at men here. Women were sold household items under the guise that they would become better mothers as a result. Or something. I don’t know, that’s a whole other article.
So let’s get back on track. If the ads were to be believed then if you were a man and bought a product in the fifties you would have been living in Vaginaville.
Whenever we see these faded old ads, perhaps on schedule-filling shows like 1000 worst ads ever or I love <insert name of year here> we tend to laugh at them, looking as we are through our post-modern uber-sophisticated eyes. How we mock the shameless sexism, the lack of irony, the gullibility of our TV watching predecessors. Aren’t we clever?
Hold that thought for a moment, I need to make a side note. I included cigarettes in the examples above and I’m about to talk about how ads have developed. I don’t want to get bogged down in the obvious change which is that fags aren’t advertised on telly anymore. We need to take a moment to jettison cigarettes from the equation so we can proceed unfettered through the decades. So here goes:
Back then everyone on telly was smoking, just like on Mad Men. That’s until the mid sixties when our equivalent of the Surgeon General stopped giving his blessing to these previously smooth-tasting and throat-soothing wonders. So cigarette ads ceased to be, on television at least. We won the world cup a year later. I’m not saying the two things are connected but… But nothing, they’re not connected. Right, that’s fags done with.
Onwards and upwards, through the sixties and into the seventies adverts pretty much carried on in the same vein with their simple this-will-make-your-life-better sales pitches. But in the eighties everything changed. Adverts got all clever. Ogilvy & Mather led the way with their Guiness – Pure Genius campaign that seduced us with its artistic content and off-beat pitch. That was, as they say, a game-changer, and the other major marketeers all followed suit. Adverts had grown up, we were no longer told that we would get daily blow jobs if we drove a certain car; instead we had a notional lifestyle wafted in our direction and offered the chance to buy into it if we were smart enough to crack the code. All of a sudden an advert that openly pushed the merits of its product seemed almost cheap.
But now it seems that we’re back where we started, but we’re expected not to notice because we’ve got used to all the post-modern and surreal stuff.
Lynx are leading the way in this move back to basics. Some years back they came up with the “Lynx effect” ads which openly mocked the you’ll-get-sex campaigns of yesteryear. They were funny, clever and they worked, but more recently the irony has all but gone and aside from a moment of knowing slapstick (for example, a fallen angel bangs her halo on stuff in one of them) we’re left with that age old message. Yet somehow we don’t feel patronised because we see them as satirical – even though they’re getting much less so. Lynx have spent years cleverly preparing the ground so they could say “buy Lynx and fit birds will fancy you” without being criticised for it. And they’ve done it very successfully. It’s really quite impressive.
But some aren’t even trying. Take Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue, it’s a perfume for men in case you’re not aware of the product. In the ad, a ridiculously attractive bloke (who coincidentally looks rather strikingly like me) is on a boat in some very small pants. He’s in good shape and we presume he’s wearing the D&G fragrance – but can someone with a smell-o-vision TV please confirm this? There’s an equally attractive woman in the boat with him and it’s clear that he’s about to do her in the secluded cove. And that’s pretty much it. The message is simple: Attractive people wear our fragrance and as a result, have sex with other attractive people so go on and buy yourself some. But no, it’s not, it’s not that at all, because what they’ve done is to tag on a bit right at the end where a clapperboard gets clapped. See? It turns out to be the scene in a film! Really? Is that enough to make it not shit?
And every time I watch the photography graduate who is on ‘his first fashion shoot’ and even though he’s forgotten his fucking camera they didn’t send him home* but instead said it’s okay to use his phone and by the way the shoot is in freefall after being dropped from a plane. Aand the point I meant to start making but seem to have moved away from with all this description to place him and the ad in your mind is that if anybody buys an HTC One X telephone because they want to be like him then they should be humanely culled. Especially if they try and copy his smug hair. No, I didn’t think it was possible to have smug hair either. Just watch it. You’ll understand.
But the most shameless example of buy our product, it will change your life that’s currently on our screens is the Heineken campaign. I have seen two of the ads. They’re both ludicrous and very similar but I’ll focus on the latest one for simplicity. A good-looking but bohemian bloke goes into a restaurant/bar with an exotic woman. He enters through the kitchen because advertising agencies can’t help but rip-off Goodfellas and he’s greeted enthusiastically by the chef. He does a bit of food chopping, which he’s really good at, and the Asian bird’s really impressed. Then he’s greeted enthusiastically by the maitre’d and a magician for some reason and then, because advertising agencies can’t help but rip-off the movies of Quentin Tarantino, the restaurant/bar looks exactly like it’s been lifted from Kill Bill III right down to the furnishings, clientele and live band. The message here is that if we drink Heineken we can live the perfect Facebook life, the life of extra-special-guest list access, quirky associates, being admired by everybody we encounter and all in front of a decent bird. Imagine the status updates?
But if I was out with someone who behaved like that then I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from punching him.
And I’d expect others to do so too.*A great deal of poetic license has been taken in the writing of this article. For example, I am fully aware that Nick Jojola didn’t just turn up at a photoshoot without his camera but that the whole thing was set up by the advertising agency on behalf of HTC. Thought I’d mention it, just in case.