Peter York On Ads
Pot Noodle gets 'em going with some freeze-dried post-feminism
Sunday 11 May 2008
We know what boys want now. Recent research has told us, definitively. It was on Lord Winston's programme, 'Child of our Time', last week, so it must be true. Boys want to be rich (and tough) and famous. But they don't want to be clever. Cleverness is not its own reward. What's the point of all that evolved layered knowledge, that great hinterland of reference, those swift verbal conceits? Does it get you rich? Does it get you laid? Will a clever analogy between 1970s punk and 18th-century novels hit the spot with a Page 3 girl? Will it get you a footballer Bentley and a nose-to-tail D&G wardrobe?
As for the fairer sex, there's a whole new generation of aspiring Page 3 girls. BBC3 followed a 17-year-old veteran last week. She'd been modelling since she was six and was waiting for that fateful 18th birthday when the law allowed her to take her top off for the camera. What was clear was that this was an established business – regulated, with concerned women photographers, agents, career plans, brand management and the rest. And that more little girls with few skills or useful certificates will go into it as their elder sisters went into hairdressing.
But whatever they do, they're not going to stop talking and relating like mad. There's nothing to suggest that being "interested in people" will ever be bred out of women by the pressures of the modern world. It's men who find all that so difficult. If Lord Winston's kiddie anecdotes are anything to go by, our lovely, clunky-fisted Prime Minister is utterly mainstream for men.
Which brings us up against the latest Pot Noodle commercial and its role in the gender dialectic and post-feminist irony. Pot Noodle is part of a sub-group of brands aimed at a young, largely male audience – Lynx and Tango are others – where the product is such palpable rubbish in so fatuous a category that the advertising is everything, the brand, the "property", the lot.
Pot Noodle advertising has started from the realistic premise that conventional claims will get you nowhere; what matters is delivering cultural currency, getting noticed – which has been the starting point for some wonderfully clever, funny advertising. And particularly – wonder of wonders for the brand – for widespread offence, complaints to media and worthy regulators and all the things that make advertising famous.
The new Pot Noodle commercial has a Sixties crooner emerging from the stage shadows to wish that girls could be more like Pot Noodles because then the world would be altogether more hassle-free. Farewell to guilt trips and nagging. If only she lived in a cupboard. If only she came with saucy stuff poured over her. If only she was freeze-dried and quick, done in a jiffy.
Someone looking very 'League of Gentlemen' plays a harp and Pan's People-like girls play around a giant Pot Noodle pack. Talk about autism and the extreme male brain. This ad systematically ticks every complaint box going: the objectification and incarceration of women, emotional denial, the lot.
And so, of course, there's a mass of angry comment boiling up from women who know they'll be accused of severe sense of humour failure and ignorance of modern comedy's bold treatment of PC issues. But they can't stop themselves, and why should they, so this will almost certainly be one of the top 10 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority this year. But where will it feature in the industry's own Bafta bashes?
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