Peter York On Ads: An Eighties revival - or is it modern day Spain?
Sunday 30 July 2006
You probably haven't heard about the Romo revival of 1990-something. That's because it never happened. Too early. But there was a tiny plan to launch a band - or several bands, I can't remember - by saying they were Romos, the natural inheritors of a great British tradition which had gone underground but never died. It was our glorious New Romantic past which dated back as far as ... 1980 Spandau Ballet, Visage, Duran Duran and lots of art-school bands with big hair and make-up and blouses (of course, it was more than that, but that's what people remember).
I think Robert Elms, Spandau Ballet's unofficial PR, actually invented the term along with the idea of "white dance music". Elms, who had an LSE first, knew about political insurgency and propaganda and how you had to create the movement that you could front, and quite how susceptible liberal, middle-class journalists were to the call of the wild. The New Romantics themselves were anything but, that was the joke. They were keen to get it on into the real 1980s because they could smell money there.
James Laver, the design and fashion historian who died in 1975, missing the New Romantics by a whisker, set out the rules for awakening interest in old styles. Laver said: "The same dress is indecent 10 years before its time; daring one year before its time; chic (contemporarily seductive) in its time; dowdy five years after its time; hideous 20 years after its time; amusing 30 years after its time; romantic 100 years after its time; beautiful 150 years after its time."
On that basis the early to mid- 1980s - all the "trigger" imagery you could put in a TV package - is coming up nicely for the daring classes. It's at the bottom of the car-boot-sale barrel; the intensity and embarrassment is over; there's a whole new generational cohort who simply weren't born then and the 1990s style of pious thought and tasteful Modernism has had it. If we're about to live through The Book of Revelations we need a more colourful stock of imagery. The sun and sandals epic films of the 1950s aren't the answer here - but 1980s electronica just might be. There's that gloriously successful compilation Electric Dreams - everything from "Ashes to Ashes" to "Love is a stranger in an open car" - and there's the Woolworths Atari filmic counterpoint; that Eighties Futuristic and dystopian canon, particularly the Terminators and Robocops, which were huge.
All those first-generation computer tricks, all that cyberman stuff looks charming now precisely because it was about dramatising the future before it arrived. The amazing technology those films anticipated - everyday Googling and so forth - is here now and everyone looks dull as ditchwater.
Seat is a Spanish-made car brand of uncertain status owned by Volkswagen. It's not quite clear whether it's got a price positioning against the Korean brands or some more considered niche. Since the Masters in Wolfsburg don't seem to have shown their usual iron grip and clarity of purpose, Seat gets away with some rather odd advertising.
The current Seat campaign for the new Leon looks a lot like Arnievision. It's got a crudely computer-generated Electric Twilight City background, it's got a plinky zithery electronic music track, and a completely absurd way of shooting the Leon as if it was an old American muscle-car (it's probably 6ft long with a 600cc engine), but above all it's got a driver with arms and legs of steel.
As he's driving along the Atari open road to Oz, the bones of his foot and leg morph into stainless steel wires and pistons and his arms resolve into a metal circuit around the steering wheel. It's a 10-year-old boy's power fantasy. "Performance and style redefined", they say and then "Man and Machine as one". Seriously clunky.
How does all this read in translation? In Anglosphere advertising, where spoof, irony and revivalism are native language, this commercial might suggest creative directors were up for reworking the 1980s now. But in Latin Europe, where an awful lot of locally-made advertising still features gravy-dark voice-overs, cute kids and comedy narratives, you might just have to face the terrible thought that they'd only just got there.
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