“Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper”
I think that adverts are becoming more and more irrelevant and dated, and this is actually kind of sad and also important. When I think of advertisers, I’m thinking of Mad Men-esque charmers in sharp suits who combine philosophy, behavioural psychology and pleasing typography whilst floating around the Big City, suddenly exploding in moments of angry/creative genius between bouts of riotous sex and gin based cocktails. Not an endlessly tweeting panderer with a 2:2 in Marketing (sorry)
Iconic ads of years past set the trends. That was their point, after all. Consider these totemic, wet dreams of adverts:
1914 Lord Kitchener Wants You
Overused now, sure, but pioneering for it’s time. And still all pervasive and unavoidable. Much like it’s sister, the Keep Calm And Carry On poster which, as we all know, is now usurped by twee middle-class house wives and Americans telling us to Keep Calm And Bake Cupcakes And Watch Doctor Who And Eat Chocolate And Be A Princess And Party On And Moustache!
1991 Cadburys Flake.
It’s well recognised that women in food ads exist only to munch sexily on phallic ‘guilty pleasures’ This baby started that.
2003 Apple iPod
We are still all using those shitty, tinny headphones that come with Apple products as a fashion statement 12 years later.
These adverts defined and captured a brief section of our past, that much is for sure. I could spend thousands of words exploring them and breaking them down, but I’m more concerned with our adverts today. How is it that recently advertisers have missed the mark by so much?
Look at the recent furor surrounding the Are You Beach Body Ready? ad. Whilst I’m aware that all press is good press, it did somewhat backfire. No matter what silly/offensive retorts their CEO has tried to cobble together the fundamental point remains the same: loads of people hated that advert. I don’t think it will be remembered as an iconic ad as it wasn’t particularly clever or even aesthetically pleasing. The ‘Beach Body’ is an idea sold by Women’s Magazines for years and years prior to this silly advert so it’s not ground breaking or even shocking anymore. That’s the problem: it’s little more than sad and embarrassing.
The above advert I saw recently for a new McDonalds burger. It’s not offensive, it’s just….. drab. The ‘Meat = Manly’ trend was over years ago. No one watches Epic Meal Time anymore. We’re less bacon, more pop-up artisanal home-cured blood pudding made from hand-cuddled pigs fed on a diet of organic kale, civet coffee and gold. ‘Sausageness’ is, like, so passé.
Or how about the irredeemably annoying Halifax ‘ISA ISA’ ad, which is summed up by this YouTube comment:
“It’s an awfulness so deep and broad it’s like some abstract notion of evil; the merest hint of which is so fundamentally disturbing it would drive kind, sane men to murderous havoc”
How on earth have adverts gone from being so on the pulse to being an object of hatred and mockery? Well, I think social media has everything to do with it. It has enabled trends to rise to meteroic fame, then disappear just as quickly. Twitter is social interaction on x8 fast forward: the lifecycle of a meme/fashion/idea is now subject to hurricane speed winds of fickle change. How could advertisers possibly keep up? I can’t even keep up with the slang of my very own Generation Y (what is ‘fleek’?) let alone expect the suits to know what is In or Out. Every ad campaign now aspires to go viral, with sharing competitions and forced hashtag trends. But social trends don’t work like that; After all, when was the last time you instagrammed an Oreo with #DunksOfTheWild? 99% of hashtag campaigns end in embarrassment and somewhere in the aether of the internet there is a graveyard for failed hashtags like #WaitroseReasons and #Susanalbumparty. This insatiable greed for ‘going viral’ has turned adverts from aspirational quasi-art to desperate, whiney attention-grabbers bent only social media success.
I think another reason is that, again thanks to social media, our attention spans have got markedly shorter. We’re so used to having opinions/events/news shortened into easily digestible chunks of 140 characters that our little iOS/Android-powered brains can’t cope with opinion pieces or complicated things like books anymore. We have trained our brains to subsist only on the baby food mush that are tweets and status updates (I fully appreciate the irony of you still reading this right now). Adverts have got shorter to try and compensate but ultimately we are living in a time-condensed, hyper-faddy world like nothing we have ever seen before.
Where will it end? Will we have to start bespoke reading classes, where we teach jittery, compulsive phone checkers to stop fondling their screens and finish a kindle book? Or will trends now come and go like mayflies, disappearing in an ephemeral poof of glittery, PR-hyped cartoon-pink smoke? And what comes first, chicken or egg; attention-span or thoughtful piece? Perhaps attention-span is a muscle that has atrophied in recent years and if you keep reading EFTTC you’ll get smarter and more focussed and succeed in everything you do forever and ever.
Or, alternatively, we could argue that adverts have not got worse at all. After all, an advert is something designed to have impact. Everything in modern advertising is important, nothing is arbitrary or meaningless and every detail has been contrived to have the maximum effect. But what would this mean for crap adverts? Let’s revisit that juvenile and ridiculous McDonalds advert. We can either assume that a) the team that commissioned it were particularly incompetent or b) it’s meant to be like that.
Now then, we know that advertising is an over-saturated market. Some of the most ambitious, competitive and creative minds work within advertising. If you are fundamentally crap at your job it’s unlikely that you’re going to go far in ads. You certainly won’t be doing work for giants like McDonalds. So b) is the only option left to us. And if I’m assuming that the people making the ads are clever, then I must assume that they can anticipate how much some people will hate the advert, as a patronising watered-down trickle of a trend past it’s peak. Yet still they release it. I would happily bet that someone somewhere in the world has messaged this ad to a friend, or tweeted or blogged about it. Maybe they huffed about shameless gender appropriation, or ‘ironically’ sent it to someone as they ate a burger. But the inherent crapness of the advert has assured it’s circulation. Christ, I took a picture of it. In many cases, the more mildly offensive the better the circulation – c.f Protein World- as people are more likely to start a spammy hashtag hate campaign about an advert than they are to actively protest about women’s rights or donate money to an eating disorder charity. Annoyance is the best form of propagation; how else could the Go Compare advert be so successful? The old Flake advert was legitimately sexy but a similar campaign today would rely on the inevitable neofeminist uproar. In short, our hatred is anticipated and capitalised upon.
If what I say is true, then how can we win? Whether the advert is ‘good’ or not, we still notice it and it seems there can be no escape. Just please stop filling Facebook with the John Lewis Christmas Advert. All we can do is proceed as follows: