Claire Beale on Advertising

Another effortless, amateur advert made at great effort by professionals
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The Independent Online

Everyone's in advertising these days, of course. Access all areas: have PC, will make commercials. Well, as long as you've got the video kit and the internet nous of a 10-year-old.

Perhaps that's why adland's lost some of its cachet: if any bugger can do it (OK, maybe not as well, but cheaper), then what's so special about the people that toil away advertising toilet roll day in day out?

There's a serious answer to that. About understanding consumers, how to talk to them, when, where. But it's true that advertising has been democratised. We can all do it now: make video ads of the stuff we're selling on eBay, post pastiches of our favourite commercials, upload home-made promos for our favourite brands.

And now we're even starring in the ads, writing the soundtracks, developing the scripts. Proper ads, ads on the telly.

Take the new Brylcreem commercial. Back in the spring, the brand with the bounce launched its own profile on MySpace. Three months later it's got 1,730 friends.

The idea was to invite MySpacers to post videos of themselves performing tricks "effortlessly", which is Brylcreem's tagline – £10,000 for the winner and the chance to star in the new Brylcreem ad.

You might have seen the ad by now. It's just launched. You'll find it at It stars Sam Veale, a juggler. The company also used MySpace to find the soundtrack to the ad: Raymond and the Voicettes beat more than 200 other video entries.

The ad itself is created by WCRS. We see Sam wake up, get dressed, and make breakfast, all with supreme effortlessness. A bit like the ad, really: you'd never know it was stitched together using "the public". Then again, it wasn't... quite.

This might be the age of the layman adman, but Brylcreem isn't really taking any chances. The ad's directed by one of the best in the business: Fredrik Bond. Fair enough. But it turns out that Sam Veale is also a pro, a photogenic juggler/comedian whose CV reveals that he's juggled in trade shows, operas, ballets, music videos, football matches, adverts, TV shows. He's a member of Equity, for heaven's sake. Not quite in the spirit of open-access advertising, then.

Sorry, but this is just another one of those "aren't we clever and modern" ad strategies that seems to exist as much for its PR value as a genuine desire to experiment and push the boundaries.

Of course, that makes it a better commercial. The truth is that although we might all now be able to make ads, it still takes the professionals to conceive a commercial that people will relish. Brylcreem and WCRS have done exactly that: this ad is a joy and demands repeat viewing. But I wonder how the other Brylcreem hopefuls will feel to know they've been beaten by a pro? But then, that's advertising, people. If you want to play the game, accept the rules.

Apparently for $6,000 (£3,000) you can now have your eyelashes supplemented with hair from the back of your head. You'll have to trim your eyelashes for the rest of your life, but if eyelashes are your thing, it's a small price.

It's also worth considering if you've been labouring under the illusion that mere mascara can endow you with longer, luscious lashes. As the Advertising Standards Authority was forced to point out again last week, mascara ads ain't always what they seem.

First it was Penelope Cruz, whose lashes got rapped for being artificially enhanced in a L'Oréal ad. Now the Avon Lady's at it, falsifying the facts to promote Astonishing Lengths mascara. "Lashes appear up to 65 per cent longer" the ad blurb claims (we're talking percentages of millimetres here). Of course they do. They are 65 per cent longer, thanks to the false eyelashes the model's wearing.

The ASA reckons that the falsies "mislead and exaggerate" the effect of the make-up. Avon's defence? Apparently using false eyelashes in mascara ads is "a global industry standard technique". In other words, like L'Oréal, they're all at it.

The shamelessness is shocking. Advertising is, on the whole, an industry that strives for veracity. Or at least an industry that has accepted that veracity is a price that must be paid. At its best, adland likes to think that it's peddling "the truth well told"; ironically, that's also the slogan for ad agency McCann-Erickson, which just happens to be the agency responsible for the Penelope Cruz ad. But when big cosmetics giants, spending billions of pounds on advertising, routinely exaggerate the effects of their products, all advertising is undermined.

Thankfully, the advertising watchdogs seem to have the cosmetics companies in their sights. Expect many more rulings against beauty ads. And shorter lashes.

a study from the US has drawn some alarming conclusions for the ad industry. Despite all the hype about media fragmentation and our apparent addiction to all things digital, media usage in the US has dropped for the first time in a decade.

According to a report from media trendspotter VSS Communications, consumers are spending on average 3,530 hours a year consuming media. Now that sounds like a hell of a lot, even to a media junkie like me: almost 10 hours a day. But it's down 0.5 per cent on a year ago, and it's got the ad industry twitching. Any sign that consumers might find something else to do with their time than ogling commercial media is guaranteed to bring advertisers and media owners out in a sweat.

But it seems that Americans are not using less media because they've discovered more interesting things to do. They've simply become smarter at extracting the information they need. So, for example, catching up on the news used to mean half an hour on the sofa in front of the latest TV bulletin. Now it means a five-minute online whiz through the headlines, or lots of millisecond glances at ticker tape flashes running across the top of a computer screen.

And in homes with the US version of Sky Plus, where programmes can be recorded and stored, there's a greater tendency to fast-forward through the boring bits of the shows – and, of course, the ad breaks.

Clearly, media proliferation has made Americans, and no doubt the rest of us soon enough, more efficient in their media consumption, and more demanding about the media they choose to spend time with.

The upside for consumers should prove to be broadcasters and publishers concentrating on creating compelling content that we want to linger over. If they don't, they'll find their advertising customers chasing eyeballs somewhere else.

Beale's best in show: cadbury gorilla

Chocolate. Orgasms. Aren't the two supposed to be interchangeable? Watch the choccie ads on TV and you'd think so. All those languorous lovelies going down on bars of the brown stuff. Chocolate is for girls, no question.

Except that Cadbury is questioning the convention. No matter that it's been peddling the clichés itself for years. Now it's going macho.

Namely, a gorilla playing the drums along to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight". An incredibly realistic gorilla, with all the studied mannerisms of the professional drum-basher.

You'd be hard pushed to work out what it's got to do with Cadbury. Even the company is a little apologetic: "Well it just seemed like the right thing to do. There's no clever science behind it – it's just an effort to make you smile, in exactly the same way Cadbury Dairy Milk does. And that's what we aim to continue to do: simply make you smile." Hmm.

Frankly, in this case who cares if the commercial justification is bolted on cack-handedly at the end? This is an absolutely delicious ad. Hilarious, lovingly realised and utterly ridiculous. It's ad as sponsored entertainment, rather than hard sell. Men, women, kids, gorillas will all love it. And if there's one ad at the moment you'd want to pass on to your mates, this is it.

It's a triumph, and not just in the technical sense. Whoever managed to sell this film to salmonella-traumatised Cadbury deserves an immediate pay rise. Watch it and weep with laughter:

Claire Beale is the editor of 'Campaign' magazine