Alice Jones: Adland's new orthodoxy: cause offence, and then let Twitter do the rest


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The Independent Online

There was a time, not so long ago, when you needed a little ingenuity, a witty idea, to go viral. A drumming gorilla, perhaps. Or a street filled with a rainbow of bouncing balls. Or a car made out of cake. Even an Eastern European meerkat in a smoking jacket would do the trick.

Now, though, an original concept is not enough. If you really want to sell, sell, sell, you just need to shout something rude as loudly as you can. This week a betting firm (no names, no more publicity here) released an advert in which they invited viewers to spot the "transgendered ladies" - or "pick the stallions from the mares" - enjoying a day at Cheltenham races. It was banned after just four days but, nothing daunted, the company has now released a follow-up in which a sniper roams the racing crowds picking off "chavs" with a tranuilliser gun - shooting one woman on her bared buttocks - lest they ruin the day for more upmarket visitors.

It comes hot on the heels of a campaign by a group of controversy-hungry animal rights activists which, by some tortuous means, attempted to equate veganism with increased male sexual prowess via some hilarious domestic violence imagery. It's OK to put your girlfriend in a neck brace, guys - just stay away from those evil dairy products! And then there were the billboards for the return of Channel 4's flagship documentary (you might guess this one) which proclaimed simply "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier".

At the risk of coming over a touch Mary Whitehouse, these adverts are simply offensive. Moreover, they are neither imaginative nor clever. They are the equivalent of being poked repeatedly with a sharp stick - annoying, unpleasant and hard to ignore. I don't believe that ad men are getting stupider. Rather the blue-sky-thinking denizens of Soho have cottoned on that the Twitterati are as easily startled, and moved to flap, as a flock of pigeons. In the age of instant reaction, you need only the slightest inkling of being off colour to trigger a howl of outrage, and, in the process, grab the limelight. All publicity is good publicity, right? But what price the brief white heat generated by confected controversy if it drags your brand, irreparably, through the mire?

* He has won two and been nominated for five but Denzel Washington has a rather laissez-faire attitude towards the Oscars. So much so, he revealed this week that he lets his wife, Pauletta, cast his votes for him at the Academy. "I watch some of the movies but she watches them all," he said. "She's like, 'Oh no, no, no - you don't want to put that one down.'" Some insiders have been outraged at this casual abuse of power but it is surely better that someone who has seen the films and just ticks the boxes.

Far more shocking is the Los Angeles Times investigation into the Academy's make-up. Of the 5,765 voting members, 94 per cent are white, 77 per cent are male and 54 per cent are over 60. Just 2 per cent are under 40 and 2 per cent are black. Little wonder the Oscars get it wrong, year after year. Still, it's good news for The Artist: half the voters probably remember silent movies from the first time round.

* My teenage self would have loved 2012. Blur are back on the front of NME and storming the Brits and the album charts are full of the bands - The Cranberries, Dodgy, Garbage - who soundtracked my GCSEs. Alan Partridge is returning to television, and cinemas will soon welcome back Renton and Sickboy in a Trainspotting prequel while Stifler and the gang will reunite for American Pie 2012.

Most unlikely of all, grunge is back on the catwalks. For Eighties babies, these are heady times indeed. It's odd: the Nineties never felt like one of those decades that people would become wistful about one day, lacking the clearly defined characteristics - 70s free spirit, 80s greed is good - of its predecessors. Perhaps that's what everyone thinks when their teenage era returns for its first wave of nostalgia. I'm thrilled to have my old idols back, of course, but it doesn't half make me feel old. //