“Funny TV ads are worth their weight in gold”. Last week, I finished reading Peter Kay’s new book, which focuses on how he got into TV. Having read his previous two autobiographies, both of which were laugh-out-loud funny, I was excited for T.V.: Big Adventures on the Small Screen. Although it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, and the phrase ‘you couldn’t say that now’ appeared far too often, Chapter 10 stood out – a nostalgia-trip into Kay’s advertising endeavours.
Admittedly, I am a little too young to remember Kay’s string of ads for brewery John Smith’s, but there’s one phrase which has been shouted throughout my childhood: “‘AVE IT!”. A saying I subconsciously absorbed from my Lancastrian dad, there hasn’t been a football match, nor a ‘quick kickabout’, where this wasn’t shouted. In fact, I didn’t even realise that it came from an advert until I read the book.
This example demonstrates how TV adverts have become synonymous with British culture. But not every company gets it right, which makes the good ones even more memorable. As a noughties kid, Go.Compare’s high-camp Gio Compario caused operatic Welsh-Italian accents to ring out across playgrounds up and down the country, whilst Sergei and Aleksandr of Compare the Meerkat/Market fame interspersed Corrie’s Mancunian convos with their questionable Russian accents. Problematic? Probably. But I know where I’m going for my insurance.
TV ads can be emotive too. I’ll never forget the nodding Churchill dog that my great Gran had in her bungalow, which we loved flicking the head of whilst shouting “ohhhh yes” in increasingly loud northern accents. And every time Cadbury’s “there’s a glass and a half in everyone” TV ads come on, I am guaranteed to shed a tear. Particularly the bit where the little girl tries to pay for a bar of chocolate with a toy unicorn. I am fully aware that this is what brands want us to feel, but alas I’m no stranger to a Twirl.
Not all adverts are quite so clear in their purpose. I’m not sure if we’re meant to feel sorry for the Scottish Widows, or admire their Atwood-esque Handmaid’s Tale outfits. For no apparent reason, young, moody women brandish their swooshy cloaks whilst staring mysteriously into the camera, and you’re supposed to think about pensions. Never understood it. Amongst the other TV ad greats that make very little sense, has to sit the Dairy Milk gorilla drumming ad. What a banger (literally). If you haven’t seen it, then I highly recommend a watch – you’ll struggle to keep a straight face, and it proves that the weirdest ads often work the best. It’s got to be Phil Collins’ greatest work (not that there’s an extensive collection to choose from…).
Come to think of it, a lot of the best British adverts have animals in them. The much loved Andrex puppy; Cushelle’s Kenny Koala. Bog roll is big business. I was desperate for one of those PG Tips monkey plushies, even though we were a Tesco Value tea family back in the day (we’ve since progressed to Yorkshire Gold, you’ll be glad to hear – that’s social mobility for you). The silky black horses (which were, apparently, chosen very carefully), in the Lloyds Bank promos, galloping across a beach at sunset, accompanied by that weirdly-haunting music. I’m singing it now. Just a few chords and the flick of a mane and I’m back, sprawled in front of the tellybox, my face mere centimetres from the screen, wondering what’s for tea and if I’ll be allowed to stay up to watch Corrie. Happy days.
Sometimes TV ads do fail in the most spectacular fashion. Take Gary Lineker’s “Walkers Wave” campaign, which automatically tweeted out selfies from footie fans, putting them in a draw to win tickets to the 2017 Champions League final. A great idea, poorly executed. The Walkers account sent out videos of Lineker beaming, whilst holding images of serial killer Harold Shipman, and paedophile Jimmy Savile, amongst others. You can always trust the British public to ruin something, although it doesn’t seem to have stunted Gazza’s career (he’s managed that on his own).
In a similarly risky realm of the nonsensical comes PaddyPower’s 2015 ad with Oscar Pistorious. Putting my personal view aside, that betting companies shouldn’t be advertised on telly, why not pick. Any. Other. Athlete?
Whilst my parents’ generation can reminisce about Vic and Bob’s hit TV ads, from the Boost bar to the Renault Clio, Gen Z is left with “hotel? Trivago”, “it’s a SCAM”, and “washing machines live longer with Calgon”. Not quite the same, is it? Although I firmly believe that maturing means coming to the sad realisation that Barry Scott is actually quite fit. If a bit shouty. And Cillit Bang is indeed the best cleaning product on the market.
So, what can Peter Kay teach us about the art of the ad? Well, unlike Barry Scott, ads don’t always age well. They need a good soundtrack and a heavy dose of humour. And, awkwardly, we can’t be prescriptive about what works and what doesn’t. If you’d told me ten years ago that Aldi and Marks and Spencer would be locked in a permanent rivalry surrounding a chocolate-coated caterpillar cake, I would’ve cackled in disbelief. If I could take my eyes off the telly, that is.