Advertising: I'd follow 'sex bomb' Howard to the ends of the earth

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The Independent Online

God knows, I've tried to spice this column up for you, keep it varied, cover the range of endeavour from bacon to power showers, slip in the odd commercial shown only on Ulster TV or Sky Sports. I know you don't want just to hear about a string of high-budget high-talent commercials for clever advertisers such as Pot Noodle or Levis. You want some slices of life, some cheap naff provincial stuff you can cite in an ironic way on the Primrose Hill party circuit. Above all, you don't expect two doses of financial services advertising in succession (after the touchy-feely Abbey stuff last week).

God knows, I've tried to spice this column up for you, keep it varied, cover the range of endeavour from bacon to power showers, slip in the odd commercial shown only on Ulster TV or Sky Sports. I know you don't want just to hear about a string of high-budget high-talent commercials for clever advertisers such as Pot Noodle or Levis. You want some slices of life, some cheap naff provincial stuff you can cite in an ironic way on the Primrose Hill party circuit. Above all, you don't expect two doses of financial services advertising in succession (after the touchy-feely Abbey stuff last week).

But the truth is that Howard Brown from Halifax has turned my head, I'd follow him to the ends of the earth: I've already flown over America with him - on a white swan. I've been to those bonding sessions with his colleagues in somewhere like Basingstoke, somewhere back-officey. We've shared a lot. Anyway there's another of those Halifax spectaculars out so the lawn fertiliser will have to wait till next week.

It's built around a Rod Stewart theme or, more precisely, a Rod Stewart anthem - "Sailing", one of the British drunk's favourite stadium songs. It's got everything; a Mexican wave, huge banners on tall buildings in British Gas privatisation style, a Titanic spoof and glorious sunsets. And one of those stadium rock butane ballad moments, when everyone's swaying together with their cigarette lighters aloft. It's got a strong theme - "we are saving" - a sexy promise - 6.05 per cent on your nest egg - and tremendous 1980s production values. It's also got some rather good lines, as in "we are saving; making waves like pioneers".

Howard Brown himself turns up late, at the prow of the good ship Self-Help, doing a Titanic spoof with a young woman against a glorious Edwardian sunset. There's a mass of visual clichés, beautifully realised, as the setting for a distinctive offer and a familiar face. So well done that you suspect ironic intent. It raises the demotic world of The Office to new heights. Halifax and Howard is a killer combination. The familiar brand, perked up by a cosy Everyman, twinkly but not threatening. Add in something that people really want and you're away.

Peter@sru.co.uk

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