Adverts: the good, the bad and the downright lazy

Matt Gardner - Online Columnist

I love watching adverts now - it's the best showcase of television. Why? Because the fickle nature of the human being is perfectly reflected in their ever changing ways. They mirror the products consumers wish they had until we buy them and they are upgraded so that we want to purchase the same thing again.


They play upon recent socio-cultural changes to get the best impact, humour and relevance. Most importantly, perhaps, is that they now have to be brilliant to capture our attention enough to stop us from making coffee, picking up the phone or going to the loo.

Thankfully, I think they're getting much better. I actively watch adverts now just to see how a product is offered to the nation. Out of these, three ads have jumped out to me - all of which have consulted major advertising agencies to help them work - and work they do.

I think my favourite in recent months is the Brains-based Drench advert which actually made me remember the name of the brand. Although I think that the people who buy bottled water can be described as Evian spelt backwards, it hit the spot. Even if it isn't full puppet work but computer generated, it taps into the nation's nostalgia at a time where we need humour, stupidity and a breakdancing Gerry Anderson marionette.

The next lovable advert was more of a sigh of relief than anything. Vauxhall, advertising their relatively boring family hatchbacks, have done away with the two insufferable children from their Meriva and Zafira adverts. In several  'original' and  'hilarious' role-reversal adverts, the children were the adults and vice-versa, with the kids musing about their parents playing games and dropping plates, as well as talking to the Indian kid next door who couldn't act for toffee (although I assume the other two could, judging by their build).

The new commercial is, with the help of a decent advertising agency (which I believe to be Lowe), one of the cleverest concepts on TV and could probably be a good basis for a TV show if brainless executives weren't afraid of unique ideas like Arrested Development.

With people changing the landscape to suit their needs - buildings moving inwards to allow cars to drive down alleys, pushing goalposts away into the ground, that sort of thing - Vauxhall have hit the mark by reflecting this image back to their foldaway chairs and spacious MPVs. If I had  £15k, a family, a need for a car and a no claims bonus as long as this rant, I'd actually consider thinking about buying one.

As a disclaimer to the final commercial, I don't really like Saatchi & Saatchi. This is mainly due to Charles' marriage to sexy-but-a-pain-in-the-face Nigella Lawson, who insists on pretending to be a cook for the proletariat yet still insisting on inviting her "friends" to dinner on TV (which all happen to be multi-millionaires).

They did, however, make a very clever advert for Visa recently, based on the popular  "get our card, get everything you need, especially if all of your friends are grade A idiots on your stag night" concept. A naked man in the desert runs, picking up various items along the way, to his own wedding, where he arrives suited and booted with a ring, a shave and a sharp suit. Very impressive.

However, advertising is not as blessed as I make it out to be.

Adverts can also show their slovenly side with the most ridiculous money-saving (read: wasting) technique used by European or international companies. The process is:

1) Get rubbish advert from the continent
2) Make no effort to change it to make it culturally relevant
3) Dub it with differently-accented voices
4) Throw it into the British market

The only one that ever got away with it was the ad for Ferrero Rocher at the Ambassador 's Reception. Still, if you watch it closely it exhibits all of the symptoms of today's lazy advertising - which is a good 20 years forward from this precursor to the trend. I think, given it was the first of its kind, it wasn't too bad; besides, the set wasn't exactly cheap and it's still an immortal advert

Still, after seeing an advert for a yoghurt made by Dr. Oetker called Paula (I mean, come on...), which is coloured like a cow (white and brown flavour, I assumed), I couldn't help but wonder why the company would go to such effort to make a single-language advert only to re-dub it to make it look shoddy.

If anything, dubbing an advert constitutes a lack of foresight in production. If it's an international product release, it needs a simple voiceover with moving images that can be changed to make it not sound like foreign muck when it hits our screens - just British muck, which is somehow better in our collective eyes.

Of course, we're not without our own disgraceful attempts at advertising. My favourite is definitely for Bold Infusions' White Diamond and Lotus Flower fragrance washing powder. Sorry, what?

What do they smell like?! I'm sure a lotus flower smells nice, but I haven 't been to Vietnam recently to find out. White diamond though? Why would they market it as a potential fragrance for washing clothing? To make it sound as pretentious as possible? It's like releasing dodo and panda flavoured crisps.

You can't advertise perfume and aftershave effectively, never mind fragrances that you know don't exist. Still, perfume manufacturers insist on communicating their scent via the strangest of advertising methods:

1) Get attractive man or woman, preferably a famous one you can pay  £500,000 for 20 minutes of work
2) Get them to imply that beauty and attraction is all due to the perfume
3) Make it for a 5 to 10 second time slot
4) Make them look coyly into the camera, or make them lark about in general - skipping from post to post as waves crash behind them, for example
5) Show the bottle and say the brand name alone in a gruff yet sexy French accent like "LAH-COST-UH" or "CH'NEHL"

Whether it's Nicole Kidman talking rot for 3 minutes for Chanel No. 5 in an ad directed by Baz Luhrman that cost upwards of  £20m (which they'd never get back through sales alone), or that unfeasibly attractive happy-go-lucky scamp on the Lacoste advert, it makes me wait for the day that Willy Wonka perfects his chocolate-via-TV teleportation technology so I can push a nuclear warhead back through my TV just for them.

All-in-all, advertising is the glue that holds TV together - soon to be the foundations upon which programming is built, such as it is in the United States. Whatever happens, I'm not worried - the British humour will always leak through and produce some of the finest works of television. With money to be made and agencies to be hired, things can only get better - but others will still continue to counteract this platform.