Good Ad Bad Ad

In which a leading advertising expert picks some of the best and worst around. This week, Tim Mellors, executive creative director at the agency Mellors Reay and Partners, on television commercials high and low
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The Independent Online
Volkswagen Polo


This makes what is apparently a small observation about human nature - that we curl up when we're in danger - and relates it to the safety of a small car.

We see a series of images of stressful situations, such as a riot, and a house fire, with firemen making themselves small as a fireball comes at them. There's also a very interesting shot, from a jockey's point of view, showing him falling from his horse over a jump and then rolling himself up so that he doesn't get trampled on.

What I like about it is that it's an emotive and intelligent way of looking at a car, that makes it your protective instrument - but without talking about steel cages or crumple zones. This is also done well in the press executions, which show a woodlouse rolling up and a sea anemone contracting its body.

And it's realistically shot: at one point there's a prisoner who is running away from pursuers with Alsatians - and how close the snapping mouths get to him is well handled. It's all shot in black-and-white, which gives it a kind of gritty realism; the shots have the quality of newspaper photographs. The counterpoint to all this is some leisurely choral singing, so that you see violent situations against a beautiful track. This technique was first used many years ago in Lindsay Anderson's film If, but it still works really well.

This ad is part of a general theme of Volkswagen advertising which allows you to do quite a lot of the work - there was one recently about a UFO, which didn't really show you the car. What this theme is saying is that Volkswagen is an intelligent choice.

Rover 600

Ammirati Puris Lintas

I think the Rover ad is trying in many ways to do the same thing as the VW one. It's taking the car out of the usual front-three-quarter- view, winding-Alpine-pass-type commercial, and is trying to get into the world of realism. But unfortunately I think they've chosen the wrong source - an exchange of two political prisoners at what appears to be a Kurdistan border.

It just doesn't come off as real. It starts out with some quite realistic footage of tribesmen, and a hostage with a rag around his eyes, but it ends up with the rescued man patting the white leather interior of the car - at which point the ad goes into a nose-dive of "sales message fits here". And again, classical music is used as a background, but here it just doesn't work: because the ad is leisurely cut, there isn't the counterpoint here that there is in the VW ad and it seems rather clumsy.

And I think the choice of theme is in poor taste, with bad associations for the car. There were a number of complaints, which normally I think is a lot of hot air, but I did think this ad was questionable; indeed, I believe it has just been withdrawn. While the Volkswagen commercial shows that you can sail very close to the wind and come out with elan, style and intelligence, this ad simply went over the edge.

It's a good try, in a sense, but the danger in going down the more innovative route is that if it doesn't come off, you end up with egg all over your face. What's more, it just doesn't seem to have any relevance to cars.

Interviews by Scott Hughes