Ads are expensive and are intended to be effective. They tend to bring up the spirit of the age. So why are ads in 2016 so boring, so annoying? Is our time sterile and passionless? Has consumerism become not just the only lifestyle but the only idea? As Google pivots to world dominion have our glistering global agencies started employing yellow-pack copywriters for TV and radio? What happened to teaching the world to sing or taking the horse to France? It’s as if no one feels the need to be clever, to provoke.
If I ask my nine-year-old daughter to finish her greens she now recites verbatim the Ulster Bank ad until I relent. “Help for the movers and for the shakers. Pure innovators. Help for the dreamers. Help for the fingers that work with the soil. For hands that know labour and hands that know toil. From the swearing of vows to the sharing of platters. It’s helping each other that’s help for what matters”.
I forget about the uneaten broccoli and make for the exit, my teeth grinding off my bleeding tongue.
The video is fine, it’s the verbal clichés: “movers and shakers”; and the nonsense – “helping each other that’s help for what matters”. And coming from a bank, of all unhelpful forces! Ulster Bank have now updated the, still mediocre theme. The same over-extended, ever ancient-hat shuffle with the universe: “It’s not just the big things. Because helping each other is help for what matters”. And they’ve been sponsoring RTÉ’s ‘Drivetime’.
It’s all a bit like the ad for Specsavers where the car gets bashed by the automatic garage door. “Dad, my car is broken’. Or the bad toes in the Scholl nail ad.
How did it come to this? Aren’t they trying to get us to like them, to do what they want?
Advertising was always about really bad messages “Coke: The Real Thing”, “I’m with the Woolwich”. But the great agencies are now purveying big messages that enshrine sweeping bad advice.
Ford advised the great gormless brexited British public to “Unlearn everything”. Hyundai implores us that “Change is good”.
And on what basis is Change Good? Because. They. Say. That Change. Is. Good. “My name is Hannah Ware [whoever that is. It turns out she played Sara Hanley in the ABC primetime soap opera ‘Betrayal’ (2013–2014)]. Acting allows me to explore. To change. It’s the unexpected that attracts me. Why? Because Change is good? Hyundai because Change is Good”.
Were we not brought up not to do things because of what others say? And isn’t change often…well, bad?
Nor even with a honeying Jeremy Irons intoning it could it ever be true that ‘better’ and ‘Sky’ fit in the same sentence: “Sky. Believe in better”. In fact Sky will make you worse. George Hook who did the ads a few years ago was a better fit because he knew that.
Less ambitious , though intriguing are the pointless ads that now drive our soulless private utilities. Vodafone, I mean you. “Lovely to finally meet you”. Ring any bells? “What do you think she’d like to watch? There’s someone I want you to meet. Her name’s Sue. Hallo Sue. Oink Oink. Music. Oink Oink Oink. Oh Suu-oo”. Or the other one where the tv unwinds: “Oh we missed the beginning”, and the whole ‘family’ troop through the romantic cottage to get a fondle of the pig. Joe.ie surmise that the story here is that the canoodlers’ love-making is interrupted by the quinquagenarian’s ex-wife, who he improvises to call Mam to throw the innocent new girlfriend. The fascination comes from the incongruous ages. 50-year-old bloke, 30-year-old girlfriend, so who can the 55-year-old fat one be? Lovely to finally meet you indeed.
Phone companies struggle to assert anything interesting simply because they are not: “Brewing up a storm. That’s data as it should be. 3”. Roll on the day when, after a long lunch in Dublin 2, 3 becomes 4.
More interesting though hardly pinpoint relevant is the dot.ie ad which, knowing – like the gas-boiler company – that their whole business is tedious focus instead on some national parodies: “You know you’re Irish when you can’t stop talking about property prices…you say like a lot, you call your mother mammy”. Over 100 businesses sign up daily to dot.ie the official website for Ireland. Official but boring.
Car ads are the most loathsome, promoting the smuggest, most damaging products that cost the most. For these metal dinosaurs anodyne messages are best: “It’s time to rediscover Toyota. There’s never been a better time to buy a Toyota”. “Renault: Passion for life”. Love that colon.
The Mitsubishi Outlander apparently puts “the Air into extraordinary, the spec into spectacular. All other can take a back seat”. A. Back. Seat.
“The all-new Hyundai Tuczon. It’s a game-changer”. Isn’t game-changer a phrase you’d dump your girlfriend for using – why is it being used as if it was a good thing for a car to be?
Volvo at least has attempted to counter the sterility of car advertising. Volvo “comes from a different place”, “with a different mindset”, trumping the others. “We care about everyone”.
Ideally car ads –especially for SUVs – embrace a status undertow.
The irritating VW Tiguan ad features cool kids embarrassed by their parents followed by the coolest of the kids with her cool dad, watched by the other open-jawed cool ones. Knuckle bump. “There’s never been a better time to buy VW”.
Unless you dislike implicating yourself in lying, corrupt planetary destruction.
But that just tickles the skin when compared to the Trivago Bunny. Pretty as pie yet somehow with no personality. “Remembah. Before you book check on Trivaigo. Saive Thuddy puhcent. Hotel. Trivaigo”. The ad misfires. Beautiful surely, she just doesn’t seem much fun.
Pretentiousness seems to be a current vogue.
“Patrick is about to enjoy his third oyster of the day” on the Atlantic Way when their ad interrupts him.
“Meadows and Byrne. And cushions and rugs and al fresco dining. And the distant sound of other people’s lawnmowers”. Could this be a pitch for people who think it’s poshest not to mow? For Autumn the ad features Stephen Hawkins Reading Keats’ ‘Autumn’…”Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness”.
“And here’s the tweeting of an actual bird”. For autumn “it’s an actual owl”.
“And new store now open in Naas”… I’ll load up the kids in the Tiguan. We can stop in Kildare Village on the way.
Some ads deserve credit for subtlety. Who loves Aldi? There’s nothing to love. And it’s taking local jobs. Hence (from someone who sounds like Ian Dempsey): “Aldi, I buy it”. If he buys it why shouldn’t I? Or even better since you can’t love it, it will be progress to like it: “Love Life, Like Aldi”.
Some ads latch to a progressive political cause and I’ll forgive them a lot.
“Because I’m a woman do you think I’m going to crack under pressure. Always”. The same tampon company promotes the idea that teenage girls should keep at sport. Bravo.
The stupid ones tend to annoy the most:
“The world belongs to those who dare. Allianz”. Isn’t that an insurance company? In practice, they will block you if you dare. They will double your premium. If you want risk, insure yourself with Quinn.
‘Earlier in the week my husband was in pain and couldn’t move but not tonight. Voltarol’.
“Tonight’s all about us – Panadol”.
What’s any of this got to do with a headache, then?
When the product is cheap and cheerful there’s scope to unleash real fingernail-down-the blackboard irritation and no need to import any elements of style. Recognise this one?
“The last quarter showed promise and in terms of the economic forecast for the year ahead it looks like… Forecast…economic borecast more like. Just look at ‘em. Let’s go crazy. Crunchie. Crave that Friday feeling. Obey your mouth”.
Some ads get their own product wrong. The Irish Times clearly doesn’t recognise its own second-rateness. This exposes it to the risk of smugness.
“The Irish Times. Own the Weekend. You are what you read”.
A jaded and derivative mouthpiece for demi-bourgeois South Dublin?
“Smithwicks since 1710. Superior then. Superior now”.
Absolutely everyone will know it wasn’t, and isn’t.
Worst of all are the purveyors of greed. A particular detestation is the ‘Late Late Show’ holiday competition, including its advertisement for a well-known travel company. Shovelling loads of cash at the everytown audience on premium rates.
Some ads deserve ridicule for being short but even still getting it wrong: “Neurofen Sinus. Breathe easier”. Have they never heard of an adverb?
Or being illogical: “It’s not funny when it’s your money. Insurance Fraud”. It’s not your money, it’s theirs.
Or the tv licence. Close listening shows they just tell you to get one.
Some words are voguish: Passion.
The strapping Irishy Bord Bia guy who struts around, cutting the joint and surveying his landholding before pronouncing on an energetic exhalation: “Food: It’s our Passion”.
A clever skit from Brady’s ham focuses on the all-singing Irish guy but this one’s got a sense of humour. Tesco don’t. “At Tesco we’re big on bringing you 100% Irish meat 100% of the time. We’re passionate about Irish meat”. “Renault: Passion”.
Some voices too are voguish. Who’s the guy who used to do Vodafone and now does 3, Supervalu and RTE, with an adolescent frog in his throat? Son, you’re the voice of youth, 2016.
Posh never goes out of fashion: the ad for Topaz Oil and its efficiency is posh.
That’s definitely a former Mount Anville girl cheering her well-spoken heir in “go for goal, Charlie” on behalf of mud-ambivalent Persil.
Yer wan doing the ad for La Boheme at the Bord Gawsh has definitely seen the inside of the Big Houses. “A Tale of life in Pahris”. You’ll hardly go to the opera if you’re not toney, you see.
Posh and old is over-used also: Mr Kipling did a line in it.
Alan Stanford is still good for panto-posh and must rake in a good bit from it. Bill Golding, Rory from Wanderly Wagon, does everything from the Farmers Journal to Old Mister Brennan.
“I wasn’t her daughter any more I was her carer but I didn’t have the time or the expertise. All I could offer was love. But most of what I felt was guilt. Then Sarah suggested home instead. The names says it all. Homeinstead, senior care to us it’s personal”. Tra la la. And the posh Mister Kipling guy comes on crackingly: “Find out maw at Homeinstead.ie”. Who’d want their old ones in the hands of someone from the wrong side of the tracks?
Then there are ads that have absolutely no ambition. VHI. Boring but reassuring; “I’m from New Zealand. I’m back at work. I’m actively playing golf. I’m on a new path. My name is Trevor and I’m glad I’m with VHI”. Good luck with your new heart, Trevor.
“You’re amongst friends with Friends First”.
Indeed of course all of the bank ads lack ambition – they don’t want to poke the hornets’ nest.
Of course production techniques are always improving and some ads can move as well as the best art. Ikea, consumerist icon and bane of those who dislike the throwaway or queues in warehouses, made the most evocative ad of 2016, assuredly summoning a grandmother’s memories of the 1960s, and her prime, to invest a lot in the little: always the best theme for guilty admen.
It opens with a studio scene recalling how painting a modest room felt to a newly-wed couple – the grandmother and her dapper husband – in the dappled, mottled, faded 1960s. We follow them through middle and old age. A backyard badminton victory becomes, in her head, a mixed-doubles win at Wimbledon. Buying a car feels like driving in a Grand Prix race. An anniversary dance was as good as performing on a Broadway stage.
Adweek considers that: “Their shared experience, though ordinary, brims with personal triumphs and private joys. Nothing’s insignificant. For them, life has been pure magic. Each memory shines”.
Advertising: the wonderful everyday.