The whole world of TV advertising started in this country in 1958, and given the amount of intellect, thought, creative genius and Money that has been expended in this area, it is not surprising that, in the intervening 5 decades, some of the snippets which have been interleaved with the programmes have actually been something approaching mini-Works of Art. You don’t realise just how good some of these creations are until you see them without the inconvenience of the programmes we have to sit through interrupting them, and diluting their genius.
So, it was, with considerable interest that, the other night, I watched one of the highly addictive “100 Greatest …” Programmes which Channel 4 have been producing over the last few years, this one covering the 100 Best TV Ads Ever.
The reality, of course, is that the list is only what a few Channel 4 viewers, “industry experts” and “critical opinion”, whatever that lot means. The real reason I suspect these programmes are made is to get you arguing with the TV set about a particular Ad being in there at all, or its position in a totally subjective Top 100. The truth of course, is that most of the Adverts are not even aimed at you, and you could probably get a good psychological profile of yourself by getting a shrink to review the ones which strike a chord with you individually.
You’ve no real idea if the Ads which you think are good, actually worked. The only way I can judge them, as an interested bystander, is if the company running them kept them going on TV for a decent length of time. In spite of Lord Leverhulme’s obligatory dictum that "Half of my advertising is wasted, but the trouble is, I don't know which half.", I bet that someone in these companies, especially those like Coca Cola knew precisely that the half that was on TV actually worked. The money being sprayed around was so huge that if it didn't work, they'd have canned the airtime and done something else pretty damned quick, or the Adman would have been finding another job.
So the conclusion you come to is that most of the ones which drill their insidious ways into our brains actually made people get off their backsides and go into the showroom, or buy a bar of chocolate, or shake some adulterated talcum powder on their carpet and then immediately Hoover it up. Or even try a can of Coke, and realise immediately that Pepsi still tasted better.
The ones I never understood were the ones like the BT Ads, which always seemed to me to be advertising a monopoly, and apart from a few additional calls between Maureen Lipman's friends congratulating her on a terrific performance playing herself, seemed to be heading nowhere.
Some of the 100 “Best” ones, you'd actually very much like to forget, but they are, by their very horribleness and the high degree of Cringe inducing feelings they generate, actually very memorable. My personal selection of these includes -
· Henry Cooper, splashing Brut around in a shower room full of semi naked men (one of whom was Kevin Keegan – I always worried about him) in a vaguely disturbing way, which today would have the Police round demanding to look at his Laptop.
· Charlie Girl perfume, with that girl in a gold Boiler suit, built like a Racing Snake, grinning like an idiot and twirling around in a Bar. I always felt as if a good slap would have been the order of the day there.
· Leslie Crowther getting supermarket buyers to taste bits of anaemic looking margarine on little bits of biscuit, without you thinking how much money they’d been paid to pick the one with Stork on. Can you imagine what the one they rejected must have tasted like, or even what it was?
· Victor Kiam selling Remington shavers – proving for ever that CEOs are no good whatsoever fronting a TV Ad
· Fairy Liquid with Nanette Newman and that ghastly, fawning child
· The Sugar Puffs Honey Monster
· The Milky Bar Kid
· The PG Tips Monkeys - where were Health and Safety, and the RSPCA when we really needed them? And finally
· The Shake n Vac Woman – the truly appalling thing was that every time they showed the Ad, their sales went into the Stratosphere, which says something about something – I just don’t know what it is.
But what about the good ones? The one thing you can guarantee is that the winner in the Channel 4 selection will not be your favourite, and your “Best One by a Mile” will come in somewhere like Number 37 – which indicates the real point of the programme. It’s four hours of inexpensive television designed to get you shouting at the set, calling them morons but talking about it all in the pub/at work the next day.
So yours won’t be mine, but seeing as I write this thing, I get to choose my eight favourites, perhaps not for a Desert Island, although I wouldn’t mind taking a couple of them with me! So, in no particular order -
Boddingtons - Well yes. It works on so many levels. The first one absolutely stopped you (or at least it did me!) in your tracks. The girl, in black stockings, and a very fitting Little Black dress walking very purposefully across the polished floor of a very expensive penthouse, sitting down at a dressing table, then cutting to her rubbing her moisturising cream seductively into her face a couple of times to finish her makeup. Then “The Sting” as she dips her hand a third time in the creamy head (!) of a pint of beer before applying it again.
And the simple strapline - The Cream of Manchester. The Cream of Manchester indeed. If that wasn't a perfect Ad, I don't know what was.
By the way, it was a young Anna Chancellor, aka Duckface in “Four Weddings” for those who want to join the lust-fest.
R Whites - It's a little company standing up and fighting the big boys. And didn't they do it well. An utterly infectious riff, I bet you’re starting to sing it now – “I'm a secret-a lemonade drinker, R Whites, R Whites......”. Brilliant.
Everyone in their time has been infected by it, and you get so irritated with yourself because you can’t stop singing it, and you feel such an idiot. Sung (for the anoraks) by Elvis Costello's dad. And who on earth was R White anyway, and what did the R stand for?
Cadburys Flake - Yes well, we've all got our favourite, and I suspect that you can tell a man's age by asking him which his was. Mine’s the languorous girl sitting on the open chateau window seat, if anyone’s interested. It's the way she licks it to start with. There's a slightly louche feeling running through them all - Botoxy lips before Botox had been invented, soft focus lenswork, somewhat surreal locations (no Luton Airport here), an obligatory lizard (don't even ask), the flake must crumble, and the girl eating it has to lick the crumbly bits. It’s probably my age but I swear the Flakes have got longer over the years.
I've no idea how these ads are seen through female eyes, but I can't imagine they'd have the same effect on them - which is odd because I can’t recall ever seeing a man eating one, so I assume they’re aimed at the females among us. Curious.
VW - in my view the best "Series" of Ads ever. They've had a wholly unique house style for something like 30 years now, and continue to be fresh, funny and effective. Even today, when you first see a new one being shown, you have to stop and watch it. I suspect they've been a very major factor in positioning VW's brand in this country - probably not that cheap to make, but they've earned their keep a hundred fold. We’ve got three in the family, so they must work!
Maxell Tapes - a very witty take on Bob Dylan, singing Subterranean Homesick Blues but given an exquisite twist (actually My Ears are Alight!) to make the point that Maxell tapes were the bees knees for clarity and hi-fi reproduction. Excellent.
The “Guardian” - actually quite a serious Ad, brilliantly made. It told the whole issue of putting a slant on a piece of news, the “It all depends on how you see something” approach quite amazingly brought to life in 20 seconds - the most intelligent Ad I've ever seen. I even bought the “Guardian” for a few days as a result, but I couldn’t get used to the unshaven armpits.
Lego Mouse - Just so clever, it showed exactly what the product could do in a way that appealed to kids, and grown ups - the Tommy Cooper impression was an absolute flash of genius.
Smash - for a product which has no sex appeal (well, at least not to me!), it was very silly and hugely watchable for umpteen years, and got the whole idea of instant mashed pototoes, a subject that didn't even show on my Million most interesting things list, onto that list. We even tried it once, but not as I recall, twice!
Yes, I do have a favourite, and if I had enough Techno-Nous, I'd put a copy of it in this piece. But I haven’t yet, so I can’t. It's not even on YouTube (as far as I can tell) so I can’t even point you there. So, to plagiarise Kenneth Williams, I've set myself a bijou project, to work out how to do it, because it’s 50 seconds of pretty flawless genius - almost a work of televisual Art, and it needs to be available to the World.
I will be back.
best tv adverts