Advertising: The 2002 Advertising 'OSCARS'
Rhinos, poodles, sex bombs, poets, and the award that has gone to Pot
Every year, advertising agency people work themselves into a lather about my awards. Their wives are Botoxing weeks in advance, shoe-horning themselves into their Julien Macdonalds just for today. It's very 21st century, you see, very virtual. They can sit at home in Barnes and Barnsbury, Highgate and Hoxton, instead of eating rubber chicken with premium Cava at The Sandringham Grand. We celebrate the insiders' concerns; we recognise the important cultural threads that get lost in these vulgar awards dos.
The award in the first category, the eagerly contested Most Life-Enhancing Catch Phrase in a Commercial, just has to go to the Golden Wonder people for the sublime "Poodle in Your Pot Noodle". We keep coming back to Pot Noodle advertising, showering praise on it in an unhealthy, almost luvvie way, but there's no avoiding that it comes up with the goods. This particular Pot Noodle commercial was a spoof of those very down-class ambulance-chasing lawyers' ads (this one was for "Ewen Court"). A child horror, little Ashley from Staines, found poodle in his Pot Noodle and the whole family was very traumatised. It was glorious, restoring your faith in language. No dumbing-down here.
The next category, Most Spectacular Use of a Rhino, was a really close call but has to go to BT and this autumn's spectacular broadband introduction commercials. The rhino in question, looking utterly live and convincing, fell from the sky on to a car and squashed it. This ad also featured Jarvis Cocker dangling from a lamppost. It almost deserves an award for that too. The whole thing brought the Golden Age of 1987 strongly to mind with its "something's coming" confidence and glorious production values.
Judging the Best Use of Poetry in a TV Commercial award was really difficult because there was only one entry – from the Pru – and it was very good. A collection of "accessible" sentimental recent-ish poetry, with proper rhymes by rightly popular poets like Roger McGough and Fran Landesman, was set to simple but clever little films. The themes were old age, time and memory; the product was pension plans – the most boring, most vital, most topical subject imaginable. And somehow the combination worked, because the Pru is such a mainstay of British experience.
Best Introduction of a Formerly Taboo Subject was, as always, fiercely contested. Advertising folk long to be at the leading edge, bold as anything about farts or fellatio. Domestos Ox deserves an honourable mention for its arc of pee, but Greene King IPA, which is some kind of beer, really swung it with its hectically bold canine cunnilingus commercial. It's an old joke – blokes so keen on their beer, they can't be bothered with the babes – retold in a novel way. He's down the pub having another Greene King IPA. She's waiting at home hoping to spice up their sex life, Sun supplement style, by tying herself to the bedposts. And into the bedroom pads Rover, tongue hanging out, and soon she's screaming and crying and begging for more. I'm sorry, but we've all got to face up to these things.
There's no question about the Best Celebrity Bank Manager in a TV Commercial award. It's got to be Halifax and black, bespectacled Howard Brown from Sheldon, Birmingham, and his "Sex Bomb" routines. In a reworking of popular songs in spectacular settings, Howard – as wide as he's tall and cosy as anything – pitched the Halifax's sharply priced offers (it broke the tacit "don't compete on price" bankers' agreement) by flying across the world on a giant swan, swooping past the skyscraper offices of corporate America and diving with the dolphins. He was irresistible, miles better than those reality TV micro-celebrities like the camp Aeroflot man.
Our modish category innovation, the Best New Age Commercial award, goes to Persil and its tweety-bleepy, touchy-feely animated campaign for its new kind-to-skin version with aloe vera. The ad had nudity, androgyny and talking in tongues. It spoke of an infantile world where a magical green Persil makes everything feel soft and nice, where your washing grows on tropical bushes fed on Persil and everyone makes Teletubby baby noises. It was the first commercial to claim this territory.
The ever-popular Best Introduction of an Offensive Stereotype goes to Alive (a soft drink from Coca-Cola). It was the first commercial I've seen to feature the eastern European spiv/minor Mafia type. It was set in some crumbling Forward-with-the-People housing estate, meant to be Moscow or Minsk, but probably Hackney, with a couple of unlikely lads with Country and Western hats and sunspecs who peddle Alive out of the boot of their early Eighties Mercedes and do a very nice line in intimidating banter, just like the drug dealers at the sink-school gates. Dodgy eastern Europeans are part of British big city life now, but this was the first commercial to show them.
Finally, the Howler of the Year award just has to go to Mercedes and its 1950s Paris commercial. It was a pretty enough thing in a very video promo style, and borrowed heavily from Fifties films and fashion. It showed a – new – Mercedes gliding through the Paris of the Fifties, turning all heads: girls, kettles and fire hydrants all got excited by this lovely silvery steely vision. Off it went, past what looked like one side of the Place de la Concorde, through big ceremonial central Paris. It was a love thing, a fashion thing, a cute style Audrey thing. It was completely unfair to expect any 30-something creative film-maker to have the faintest grasp of history and of what the likely reactions of Parisians to a top-of-the-range Mercedes might have been in 1953.
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