York on Ads: No 6: Sekonda and John Smith's

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The Independent Culture
ADVERTISING has its own 'biofeedback' loop with the public through market research. It constantly tells advertisers and their agencies that viewers feel ambivalent about celebrity presenters: aren't they doing it for the money? It doesn't matter so much when they're adding interest to a straightforward product narrative - Joanna Lumley presenting Fairy Liquid - but it's more difficult when the celebrity is the story, and particularly when it's somebody who isn't normally anodyne.

Two recent commercials lead on their presenters' venality. Both are star comedians, one Old School - Bob Monkhouse for Sekonda watches; one New Lad - Jack Dee for John Smith's bitter.

The fee is the story in the Sekonda commercial. Bob does his impression of a watch and tells you he's getting pounds 1,000 per second 'and I've the time if they've got the money'. So if it's 30 seconds that's pounds 30,000, we all calculate swiftly. Jack Dee (above) puts more of himself into it; some parody of his 'hard man of comedy' positioning. It's one of a series in which Dee has a running dialogue with the cliches of ad production. He's critical, but he succumbs. Here, a bag of gold on the table persuades him back into the commercial just as he's about to walk out because it's so embarrassing. And then we're in familiar country - Seventies-style ad-spoof land with dancing ladybirds and kitsch everything.

This frantic drive towards irony and self-parody in British TV commercials warrants a dozen French critical monographs - but does it sell? No one's provided convincing evidence, but it certainly generates the tabloid column inches.

Videotapes supplied by Tellex Commercials.

(Photograph omitted)

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