Media: Beware all slacker ads: you may have been Tango'd

The vogue for idle thoughts has not always been accompanied by hard thinking.
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The Independent Culture
JUST WHEN you thought that every angle had been used to flog anything from washing powder to personal equity plans, ad agencies perpetrate another case of cultural hijacking.

The latest victim of Zeitgeist plunder is the slacker mentality. The idea seems to have been appropriated from The Idler magazine, which espouses a relaxed lounge-lizard version of loafing.

Tango (known for its great ads), Strongbow (known for its rubbish ads) and Karrimor rucksacks (not know for any ads) have grasped the new dandyish slackerism by its wide lapels. Tango's World Cup campaign reprised Coke's "Eat football, sleep football, drink Coca-Cola" with "Eat pies, sleep a lot and drink Tango". Strongbow has lifted its "live to loaf" line direct from the cover of The Idler, with Johnny Vaughan as its scampish new face. And Karrimor is encouraging people to phone in to work sick and go rambling instead.

Slackerism is a particularly bold new direction for Strongbow, which laboured under the misapprehension that cider is a product drunk by blue- collar workers, when, in reality, cider is drunk by two easily identifiable groups: underage drinkers and impoverished students, who appreciate the fact that it gets you drunk quickly for not much money, a property that also appeals to winos.

While the latter are the sort of consumers who will continue to guzzle regardless of image, the former are far less loyal, and Strongbow's makers, HP Bulmer, have identified a disconcerting shift to alcopops, with a slump in profits of 26 per cent last year. They hope that Johnny Vaughan will instil some much needed street credibility.

Karrimor, whose "phone in sick" ads pander to those in all walks of life who regard taking regular extended holidays in Third World countries as a defining aspect of their personality, can also be argued to have been inspired by a flick through the pages of The Idler. Each month the magazine carries a column by "Decadent Action", a Situationist group that espouses rigorous overspending on credit cards and organised "phone in sick" days as a way of destroying the capitalist system.

Of course this current rash of idling ads does not mark the first time that brands have tried to appropriate a form of slackerism; but, unfortunately, the results to date have been less than encouraging.

A reasonably spectacular flop was scored in 1994 by Coca-Cola with an attempt to tap into the already waning grunge scene. Coca-Cola's new product, called OK Soda, was launched in selected cities and aimed at Generation X deadbeats and slackers. Packaged in grey cans with pithily nihilistic slogans on the side, such as "don't think there has to be a reason for everything", the product bombed, and the company went back to what it knew best - flogging soft drink using gaudy upbeat ads full of grinning models.

Loafing is a touch different, however. It is grunge grown a little older and a little wiser. Loafing is more knowing, louche and upmarket, evoking the spirit of the insouciant fop rather than that of a terminally depressed teenager.

But are slacker ads really such a good idea? Linking your product's essence with laziness and self-indulgence does not often sit too happily with the public's aspirational idea of itself. Chocolate advertising, for instance, with its ads based around the idea that chocolate is something to treat yourself to as you laze around, is totally out of step with its market.

Unable to come to terms with the fact that chocolate is not a luxury item any more, confectioners insist on plugging away with the old "treat yourself, eat some choc" mentality that has been prevalent from the days of the Milk Tray men. The confectionery industry shows an inability to grasp the fact that choc bars are munched down because they are a cheap, quick and easy way to grab calories. People eat chocolate because they feel that they are too busy to eat properly.

Kit-Kat was the best-selling chocolate bar in this country, and its advertising half grasped the idea that chocolate is eaten by people on the go, but it got the wrong end of the stick; "Have a break, have a Kit-Kat" still conjures up the idea of people lazing around and stuffing their faces with chocolate - "Don't have a break, grab a Kit-Kat" would have been a line far more in tune with how we perceive the eating of chocolate today.

While the current crop of loafing ads may verge on plagiarism, it does come across as more clued up and tongue-in-cheek. The ads acknowledge the fact that those lucky enough to have a job in this country work longer hours on average than almost anywhere else in the Western world, and, therefore, lazing about has become a seductive fantasy for many people.

This is what they should be tapping into - otherwise, if the ads are to be taken at face value, they might find a fundamental problem in aiming products at an audience made up of people who are proud of the fact that they rarely get out of bed, and if they do, one doubts it is in order to jog to the supermarket.