hard sell

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The Independent Online
Wot's this? An ad showing us someone unimpressed with the product? Someone, in fact, turning it down? Time to pay attention.

Undoubtedly, this is the reaction that the Nissan's Primera Precision ad hopes for. In it, a man tries and fails several times to deliver the car to a punter, who keeps closing the door on him. Each time he turns up, he offers more extras - immobiliser, electric front windows, sun roof. But the dowdily dressed character he is trying to woo accepts the keys only when he is offered all these goodies, plus remote central locking. As the delivery man gives him a bear-hug, the voiceover - in a Yorkshire accent - tells us: "Demand more for your pounds 11,465."

The clue is the Yorkshire accent. Next time you see the ad, you notice the sheep, the babbling brooks and moors. You notice that Mr Hard-To- Please lives in a cottage straight out of All Creatures Great And Small. So we, the punters, are being flattered with the idea that, like the Yorkshireman of stereotype, we're not easily impressed by gimmicks, that we drive a very hard bargain (this from an ad selling a car on its extras).

Flattery is the advertiser's greatest weapon. Exploit the punter's vanity and you've won half the battle. Of course, ads promoting vanity products are best suited to this (and cars are the most expensive vanity products). Not for nothing do cosmetic commercials invariably employ the cliche "Because your skin deserves the best". Similarly, Bupa is selling itself with an ad that apes a car commercial, extolling the specs of the human body ("can go for miles on one glass of water") and finishing with the line, "You're wonderful. We want to keep you that way."

Nowadays, the punters have wised up to advertising tricks, and even flattery has to be oblique or presented as the opposite of itself. So Nissan's ad flatters by the absence of gloss (the rain, the battered Fifties Woolworth's lampshade, the fat farmer with an Elastoplast on his face). We know you're too smart to fall for the old games, says this commercial. So here are some new ones.

Our ability to see through the nonsense of advertising is also exploited in the Martini "Are you too ugly to drink it?" campaign, in which a woman in evening gloves and a smile so tight it hurts to look at it confides, "People aren't drinking Martini as much as they used to". This, she reveals, is because too many don't feel beautiful enough to drink it, kindly offering plastic surgery to anyone who feels they need it. This is an AbFab-style send-up of the Martini People ads of the Seventies, in which the audience was flattered with the fantasy that Martini made them members of cafe society.

The latest version flatters us with the notion that we are far too sophisticated to fall for that; that we are so hip that when we next order Martini, we will be wearing a superior, ironic smirk.