Claire Beale on Advertising: Unmissable telly? Yes, it's the PG Tips monkey

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The Independent Online

Perhaps it was once true that, yes, the ads on TV were better than the programmes. But a rummage through adland's 2008 suggests that the ad industry can't cling to that comforting cliché; the ads contained depressingly few gems.

Still, saving one of the best till last, adland reckons it has a treat in store on Christmas Day, an ad that's worth tuning in for. I know this because I've seen an ad for it: an ad advertising an ad. It's an interesting trend, this: publicising ads before they're broadcast. As our TV viewing is now fragmented over hundreds of channels or time-shifted past airing date, if you have an ad that you think is special you have to run another ad first telling people to tune in and watch it.

Of course, you can see where all this might lead if adland gets carried away with itself: ads for ads for ads. Which at least has the virtue of giving the industry a financial boost now that recession's hit.

Anyway, this particular teaser ad for an ad is a viral campaign by AKQA and stars the PG Tips Monkey dragged up as the Queen filming her traditional Christmas Day TV appearance. Monkey gets more and more pissed as he raises a glass of champagne to toast the year. Many takes later, he manages to tell us to watch him and his mate Al on ITV1 on Christmas Day, between 9.05pm and 9.25pm.

Now, at this point I have a dilemma. Should I spoil the surprise and tell you what the Christmas Day ad is all about? Or should I let the Monkey's "Queen" ad work its magic and intrigue you into tuning in?

It would certainly suit ITV if I keep shtum. They could do with a ratings boost, particularly at Christmas when they usually lose out to the BBC. Mind you, I hear that ITV has just commissioned its own research (warning: self-serving stats coming up) and has discovered that one-third of viewers reckon they'll be staying in and watching more TV this Christmas than last. Phew.

And anyway, you can't keep a secret in the adland village – advertising obsessives will already know that the Christmas Day PG Tips special is a homage to one of the most famous scenes from British television history. Yes, PG Tips' ad agency, Mother, has lifted shamelessly from the very best of Christmas Day telly traditions: Morecambe and Wise and the Queen's speech. And it employs one of advertising's most powerful formulas: familiarity with a twist, mining one of TV's best-loved scenes for all its warmth and charm but adding a delicious spin.

So Monkey and Al are going to rip off Morecambe and Wise's iconic "breakfast sketch", of which I defy any Brit over the age of 35 to be ignorant. It's the one where the comedy duo flip pancakes, squeeze oranges, whisk eggs to the tune of "The Stripper". Monkey and Al play it out just like Eric and Ernie, only they do it over a pot of PG Tips. It's sweetly cheeky, with a knowing irony.

So it's worth making a note in your diary, because after a year with too few TV advertising highs, this ad is an example of good old appointment-to-view content, and you don't get many of those these days. From a glance at the Christmas TV schedules, Al and Monkey's "breakfast sketch" might really be a match for the programmes themselves.

Best in show: AKQA

*OK, this week's Best in Show isn't exactly an ad. It's a Christmas card. But it's one of those Christmas cards designed to show you how very clever the sender is. So, really, it is an ad; it just happens to be an ad for an advertising agency, masquerading under the cover of goodwill to all men.

In recent years, adland has used caring for the environment and donating to charity as an excuse not to send out paper cards. After all, making digital Christmas cards can say so much more about your digital credentials.

Anyway, AKQA takes the trophy for the best – and most complex – digital card this year. It involves 49 microwaves all timed perfectly to ping in sequence, making the tune "Jingle Bells". Type AKQA into YouTube to see it for yourself and have a very merry Christmas.