hard sell Ariel Future

The future has always been a great place for advertisers to associate their products with. "For a brighter, whiter future" as a current ad for Macleans toothpaste, set on a starship, puts it. The pristine future is better, in every sense, than the soiled present.

Which is why Carol Vorderman was sacked by the BBC for appearing in the Ariel Future ad. She had blasphemed. Of course, other BBC presenters, such as Danny Baker and Jeff Banks, have made ads which exploit the viewers' trust in them. But they didn't present Tomorrow's World, which, with its fervent faith in progress, is probably the last truly religious programme on TV. By associating herself with grubby commercialism of Ariel's Future, Carol had, in the BBC's narrow eyes, made the future itself dirty.

The commercial, though, is an epic. Carol visits the University of Sheffield to "check" the life-transforming claims of Ariel Future. A boring little man in a white coat shows us a graph we can't read and tells us: "Analysis shows that Ariel Future contains more cleaning ingredients than these two products combined ..."

This is where Carol really earns her fee. You see, she's not only a trustworthy intermediary of science, spreading the Word to the laity, she's also a woman. Hence the feminine scepticism in her response to the "scientific proof" of Ariel Future: "Impressive. But that's in a lab. What about real life? Where are the kitchens?"

Off she rushes to the real world of "women's work" to speak to Tracey, a woman with a northern accent, about chilli con carne stains. Authority followed by authenticity. Really, this commercial has every timeless soap powder cliche; a man in a white coat, two tarts in a kitchen and the voice of God (Vorderman).

So the future turns out not to be so futuristic after all. In a sense, Ariel Future celebrates the death of the future. The improving institutions and their commitment to Progress - the BBC, red-brick universities, even science itself - are paraded in cages. People don't believe in the future any more - merely the latest product.

Mark Simpson