I remember reading an article about major celebrities raking in the money by doing naff adverts in Japan which they thought nobody would ever see.
I can totally understand the appeal – Japan is the kind of place that sees nothing weird in mixing cool and cash. Things in North America, particularly Canada, are slightly different. Here, they use Brits or Europeans in ads to try to persuade consumers that we know about things that they don't. This was why I was quite surprised to see an ad last night featuring Judith Chalmers.
"Hello, I'm Judith Chalmers," said Judith Chalmers.
"Have you ever heard of Judith Chalmers?" I asked my in-laws. They had never heard of Judith Chalmers. Judith Chalmers was on Canadian television to tell them about some dodgy-looking machine that did something to encourage circulation. Judith Chalmers started to talk to some British couples who all nodded enthusiastically at Judith Chalmers and professed that the circulation machine really helped their... circulation. It looked as if nobody in Britain was without one of these miracle machines in their sitting room.
"Is this machine big in the UK, then?" asked my in-laws. The powers of Judith Chalmers were obviously working. "I don't think so," I replied, admittedly without knowing much about the world of circulation machines that looked a little like foot spas. Judith Chalmers had obviously been picked because she looked like a trustworthy type of Brit.
In the past, there used to be a channel that ran "infomercials" – full half-hour ads masquerading as some kind of daytime "home" show. The star of these was a skinny little cockney "fella" who looked as though he had spent most of his life in petty crime before having to escape UK shores and relocate to North America. This guy would sell everything.
Thinking about it, he might be partly responsible for the way Canadians view us as characters from Mary Poppins (something I alluded to a couple of columns back). He used to wear a Union Jack waistcoat and looked to me like the most untrustworthy man I'd ever seen. He was a classic Del Boy character, but I think this was lost on Canadian audiences who seemed to think he was "charming" and "fun" as he danced about like some monkey on a barrel organ.
Once again, the implication was that everyone in the UK was using the machines he used to demonstrate: miracle vacuum cleaners that could suck up oil slicks in 10 seconds or kitchen knives that could cut through solid brick with no pressure. The general theme was why have the Brits been hiding all these amazing innovations from Canadians?
But despite the British chef invasion of Jamie and Gordon, et al, we are still, as a nation, not really trusted in the kitchen. In the world of Canadian advertising, this is given over almost entirely to huge fat Italian chefs whose grasp of the English language is non-existent. There seems to be some unwritten TV law over here that chefs must be incomprehensible in order to appear genuine. I watched one guy speak to us from his "Tuscan Kitchen"– clearly a set in downtown Toronto. "Theeeesss eees maripananzi cuminangine feeerst you streen thee eeegplanta," he intoned. I didn't get it.
My mother-in-law, however, was absolutely transfixed. "This guy is a genius," she said.
I've been sitting watching this stuff for too long, my circulation is getting sluggish. If only there was a machine that could help me out...