Peter York On Ads

Who do the Shreddies knitting nanas think they're kidding?
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The Independent Online

I didn't really cut it on 'Grumpy Old Men'. I gibbered away for hours in a darkened room and then they used about 30 seconds of heavy sarcasm. The pillar of 'GOM' is Arthur Smith, with his bloodhound face and his demotic sound and blokey why-oh-whys, followed by Rick Wakeman with his wonderful hair and cultural baggage (you always feel he's wearing his full cloaky Yes kit). That mellow National Treasure Will Self gets a lot of rotation too. The directors were right, of course. They want bemused but lovable dads, not sarky snobs like me.

The first cohort of Baby-boomers are facing back and forward now. Going on with all that Sixties Youthquake consumption they pioneered, ostentatiously downloading on to their iPods while booking in for new hips.

They're mostly not adorable. For really adorable you need the survivors of a generation back. People like the Baby-boomers' parents. The marathon-running, still-working, 90-something Buster Martin, the Lancashire grans, proper OAPs who never wear jeans. People who saw off Hitler and knew all the Tommy Handley catchphrases. The "we" generation before the "me" generation. "Keep calm and carry on." All that.

Those grand people were a problem in the golden age of consumption 1958-2008: people who queued, who collected pieces of string too short to be of any use and were Under the Doctor but didn't see themselves as health consumers with choices. The problem with that Depression-reared, war-forged generation was that they mostly didn't borrow enough and didn't buy enough. Anyone who said "This'll see me out" was obviously not contributing.

There was also the question of employability. Old people didn't just have redundant skills, so the thinking went, they had redundant attitudes, too – hierarchical, cautious, not entrepreneurial enough.

But the more those generations were sidelined, the more they were sentimentalised. Take, for example, Clive Dunn acting old (he's grown into it now) in 'Dad's Army' and for his Christmas hit of 1970, "Grandad, Grandad, you're lovely".

The old are mocked in Tango-generation advertising, but idealised in pretentious high-concept ads – mobile telephony, etc – and in universal corporate advertising, which aspires to be art photography. Grainy old Peruvian ladies and smooth old Buddha-like orientals go nicely with a bank with a desperately inclusive global message. Old faces are a clichéd code for civilised in corporate social responsibility world – ie they're what banks aren't.

Shreddies, the bite-sized Shredded Wheat sub-brand, has been in the granny business for a while. The latest treatment in their 'Knitted by Nanas' series has them in a factory in their armchairs, spooling away. They're just that bit like the Harry Enfield/Kathy Burke pair of predatory old ladies. They introduce Charles, their old quality controller – "he's so hot" – and let him taste the batch. They talk about Coco Shreddies – "So cute and adorable" – and they explain that every Shreddie needs a nana's touch.

It's all vaguely worrying. What age of children are we talking about? How do they react to linking cereal to old people? Do they ever see their real grannies? Those grannies will be pushing-60, ravers who gaggle together for an Annie Lennox gig. These nanas are actually great-grandmothers.

And somewhere sub-texty, behind the cover story, you suspect that all the 30-something creatives involved see the old dears as more like Nanageddon on 'The Mighty Boosh'.

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