Once a taxman, always a taxman

PETER YORK ON ADS; No 85: INLAND REVENUE
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The Independent Culture
HOW LONG since you saw a bowler hat featuring in a big-budget TV commercial? (Possible answer: adorning Mr Bradford and Mr Bingley at least 10 years ago.) Well, a bowler hat positively stars in the new Inland Revenue "Self-assessment" ad, sitting on the head of an animated Bristow-like tax inspector. And the little creature is voiced by Sir Alec Guinness.

Is it self-mocking, deconstructing the traditional image of the taxman? Have creative people found the delightful simplicity of an older generation of cartoonists?

Anyway, we've got a shy little chap in archaic costume who introduces himself with an anxious cough and continues in a suburban whisper. And we've got a cluttered office whose only post-1979 feature is a word-processor. The little chap goes through routines we haven't seen in ages, like turning into a twin-headed dragon and a Beatley pop star. He changes style to illustrate the notions of "leaner, simpler and more efficient". He's there to tell anyone who receives a tax form about self-assessment and the need to find out about it.

Perhaps the thinking was that it'd be nice to give the taxman a whimsical, almost lovable, face: humanise him and make the whole ad more memorable by creating a character who can appear in other treatments, rather than opting for a public- service announcement approach. But the net effect is to pitch a 1950s stereotype into the 1990s, confirming everything viewers ever thought about the Inland Revenue. And it fails to clarify the sterling appeals and mechanics of self-assessment.

I suspect an agency here has over-responded to its clients' concerns with their corporate image, and sought to make them that little bit more lovable.

Video supplied by Tellex Commercials.

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