Television advertising annoys me. A lot.
It’s cheesy and fake, and it doesn’t take much of it to reduce me to an angry blob of Tourette’s and bile. As a consequence, I am forbidden from watching commercial television before the children have gone to bed.
That family all huddled together on the sofa, watching their brand-new TV and smiling and pointing like they’re on drugs – hardly seems real, does it? No evidence of passive-aggressive comments or a brewing argument there! We know they’ve had their eyebrows waxed, hair permed, teeth whitened, and no-one has been banished to the Naughty Step for having a tantrum.
And that far-too-attractive woman with heartburn? We can tell from her complexion that she’s never crunched Rennies like sweets on a Sunday morning, suffering after ten pints of lager, kebab and fistfight the night before.
Oh, look! An apparent dentist/scientist/male-underwear-model (who sounds suspiciously like a voiceover artist) pounces on mature-but-shaggable women in shopping centres and asks them about their oral experiences! And what are the odds – she sounds like a voiceover artist too!
These adverts do not feel relevant to me! I can’t empathise! How can I relate if something that looks like a lifesize Barbie doll tells me what sanitary towel I should be buying? I am too busy wishing painful death on three “students” to care about whether their broadband is fast enough to host a halloween party.
They can often wheel-out some celebs to plug a product, but we’re becoming immune to that too. Minor celebrities try hard to convince us that they shop at Iceland, or that they occasionally work Saturdays behind the fish counter at Morrisons.
Adverts are a socially-acceptable form of lying – rather like politics. We know it’s all fake. They know that we know it’s all fake. But we just accept it as part of life: like bank charges, or X-Factor vote rigging.
And then someone has a genius idea about getting “real” people to feature in their adverts. “No-one believes our actors anymore!” cry the execs: “Let’s get some ‘real’ people on instead! And they’ll be cheaper, too!”.
Now, I suspect that if I had been present in the marketing meeting where this was first proposed then I would have been quite positive about it. “Yeah, I’m sick of seeing attractive models pretend to suffer from thrush! Show us some real people!” is just the sort of idiot thing I would have said.
Halifax Howard was probably a pivotal moment. A man who is undoubtably one of us: dull voice, jamjar glasses and a noticeable lack of waxed-abs is suddenly catapulted to fugly stardom.
Since then, there have been numerous examples. Asda’s finest have graced the small screen to tell us what cakes have been Chosen By Us. The AA don’t have time to fix any cars these days because they’re too busy singing and crossing the landscape in a manly way, like a high-vis themed trespassing male voice choir. The Halifax have formed their own glee club to try and make us feel better about humanity before they screw-us with their bank charges.
And yet, despite all this … adverts have become no less shallow. They’re pedalling the same ol’ shit as before, and I still don’t believe any of it. My Tourette’s and bile has not subsided. The actors are just uglier. We’re still being fed the same crap taglines and half-truths; but now those lines are being delivered with less conviction by people with dodgy teeth.
It highlights an interesting point: actually, to be an actor in advertising is harder than it appears! Clearly there is a big difference between people who look good on TV, and the rest of us. To be a glossy animated shop-dummy on the telly does actually take more ability than we (the pond-life who watch) have hitherto believed.
Very few of us are attractive enough, healthy enough or can dance with enough enthusiasm to sell Haribo. We really do need to see people on TV who have had their eyebrows waxed, their hair dyed and their teeth whitened. It takes a surprising amount of talent to dance on telly. Everyone else is just “drunk uncle Dave at our Carol’s wedding reception”.
I think it’s reasonable to say that neither I, nor my immediate circle of friends and work colleagues are what you’d call “The Beautiful People”. We’ve all fallen out of the Ugly Tree (though on the way down some of us hit more branches than others).
And that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me that my colleagues and I can scare small children and horses when we forget our makeup … but when I get home each evening and turn on my TV, I don’t want to see any more of them.
So if adverts are still equally as banal no matter who is acting in them, what’s the common theme? I suppose it must be the advertising execs themselves. So the next iteration of the “down-to-earth” advert is to get rid of the professional advert writer, and replace them with people like me. Then we’ll see some well-known brands suddenly employ some refreshingly honest taglines:
- Boots – our female staff are very ugly, so you don’t feel quite so intimidated when you ask for pile cream
- Argos – just like the bookies, but you can buy jewellery too
- L’Oreal for Men – for men who are too busy to compose their “coming out” status on Facebook
- Aldi – because sometimes you want to get your biscuits directly from the pallet like some sort of humanitarian aid drop
- Dairy Lea – now that Michael is dead, can we stop with the jokes?
- Subway – tastes like shite, but you’re too lazy to make your own damn sarnie
In the meantime, we must resign ourselves to this truth: people in adverts need to be attractive. And although they may seem vacuous and insufferable, it is still better than the alternative.
Putting staffmembers in your ads is probably very good for office morale, and might make your brand seem more approachable in the short term – but it’s a fad that gets old fast. In ten years, I fully expect it to see it mentioned in one of those “Look back at the Noughties” C4 documentaries, where stand-up comics of the age will say “Remember those bank ads filmed in a radio station? Weren’t they shit?”