Britain has long enjoyed a reputation for witty and irreverent advertising. I would even say, having viewed television adverts in many parts of the world, that it's something we do better than anyone. Recently, though, I've been detecting some false notes, where the quest for originality and, above all, edginess risks tumbling over the precipice into unacceptability.
One such was the Cadbury's advert for its Bliss range of chocolate, which carried the line: "Move over Naomi, there's a new diva in town." I tend to agree with the ruling issued by the Advertising Standards Agency this week, that the operative word was "diva" and that it had nothing to do with race or colour. But that's not how the model herself saw it, nor some lobby groups, which complained that it insulted black women. By the time the ASA ruled, Cadbury's had apologised and withdrawn the advert in the face of a threatened consumer boycott – which may help to show where the real power lies.
Two new adverts, though, do cross the line, or at least my line. In a campaign designed to woo back tourists after the revolution at the start of the year, Tunisia is running a promotion with a picture of a bikini-clad woman (what else?) and the hand of a masseuse. The legend reads: "They say that in Tunisia some people receive heavy-handed treatment." If you felt kind, you might think this was the result of some infelicitous – even heavy-handed – translation. It seems, though, to be deliberate.
And if you consider that more than 200 people were killed during the uprising, or if you mentally replace "Tunisia" with, say, "Bahrain" or "Syria", you might feel a little queasy. Actually, I had been thinking that it might be the time to visit Tunisia in the hope of unusually deserted archeological sites and hotels grateful for the custom. Now, I'm not so sure.
But there's another advert, playing in London cinemas, I find even more questionable. It shows "Geoffrey", an unintelligent slob who might have come straight out of Little Britain, and someone else who appears to be his devoted carer. "Geoffrey" races around a field after a ball; scavenges in the rubbish-bin for something inappropriate to eat, whereupon he throws up, before engaging in some rough-housing on the sitting-room floor and contentedly falling asleep on the settee in his carer's arms. It's only then that the advert is for Battersea Dogs Home, trying to persuade you to adopt a stray, and "Geoffrey" is a humanoid dog.
This advert has provoked quite a discussion on the internet, with a largely positive response for its engaging obliqueness. Dog lovers seem especially taken by it, and even if you don't quite "get it", you might be inclined to shrug and say: "Whatever works." But this comment on one of the discussion sites, I think, puts a different gloss on it: "I used to work with mentally ill people and it just made me think of them, so I was all sad." That, I have to say, is pretty much what I thought, too. But it didn't make me sad; it made me think "edginess" had reached its limit.
Lords of the jungle just made for climbing
Not a lot of edge, it has to be said, in VisitBritain's first global campaign for a decade – what with frontspeople Twiggy, Judi Dench, Rupert Everett and other national treasures. You might also say, if you saw the crowds in London now, that the low pound is doing quite enough for British tourism. Still, it was unfortunate that the launch coincided with a proposal that one of our most loved attractions should be fenced off.
Consultants surveying the capital's monuments had apparently found that the lions guarding Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square had "suffered severely as a result of the public climbing on and off". They reported cracks in the tail of one, and found that all four of Landseer's imperial bronze beasts had "deep scratches running down their backs". They were also rusting. The report suggested a partial, or complete, restriction on access, enforced by wardens.
English Heritage, fortunately, took a different view. It said this would be "difficult to enforce, costly, and deeply unpopular". How right. You have only to see the delighted triumph on the faces of people, big and small, when they have managed to sit on top of a lion to know how much goodwill would be lost. An admission here. Riding a Trafalgar Square lion is something I've always wanted to do, but they are very big and slippery close up and my climbing skills leave much to be desired. At least, if English Heritage gets its way, I'll have more time to try.
Oh dear, I fear I'm thinking what they're thinking
The bus driver was polite, but firm: "You can't bring that on here; I've got two already." The mother, or nanny, pleaded that she could only see one, then conceded there were two, and slowly eased the huge wheels back onto the pavement. At which point two women behind me (of grandmotherly age) whispered their approval and, warming to their theme, continued along these lines. "They're so lazy these days. When mine were small, I just walked everywhere. Miles and miles, I walked to the shops, to the park, and everything." "Yes," responded the other. "We never dreamt of taking the pram on the bus. But look at them now. They've got enormous great contraptions, and those double-buggies... well, there's no room for anything else. They should be banned from the buses, and the pavements, too."
Now in one way, the ubiquity of buggies on buses reflects the greater manoeuvrability of child-transport now and improvement in buses' pram-friendliness – positive developments, both, if you are a parent. And yet, and yet... I find them irritating, too, not just because of the space they block, but because of the aggressively entitled air of those who steer them.