Product advertising has always been in the wars. Alcohol in sport, the cynical targeting of children, skinny models promoting eating disorders. There’s rarely a time when someone, somewhere isn’t complaining about adverts and what they do. Usually I don’t let them impact on me too much. I’m aware that I am being subliminally brain-washed every day, but I try not to let it worry me. In fact, as a child growing up in the eighties, when granted there wasn’t much on the telly, I remember enjoying the ad breaks as much as, and often more than, many of the actual programmes themselves. Back then, people knew how to write adverts. Some of the best ones are still ingrained in my psyche, thirty years later. I bought four Catch chocolate bars yesterday because I wanted my kids to try them. They represent positive childhood times to me, mostly based on my happy memories of the ‘Catch it if you Can’ TV jingle. (I can still sing the whole thing). And what about Gillette? The Best a Man Can Get circa 1989? I challenge anyone to youtube that one and not to get goosebumps at the bit with the astronauts. They were real men. Hairy men. That was good advertising. Advertising that left you with a smile on your face.
So what the hell is going on now?
Far from making me smile, I’ve found that increasingly, modern-day adverts on the radio and TV make me want to scream. Expensively made adverts, targeted at women in my demographic. More often than not, I’m finding that instead of encouraging me to buy a product or service, these adverts leave me with such negative associations that I am compelled to make a mental note never to purchase anything from the company involved. Ever.
The first stupid ad that made me want to throw my evening bowl of cereal at the TV was one for hair colour. It’s narrated by a thirty-something, pleasant enough guy, who is lauding his wife “Kate.” Kate has, according to her husband, given birth to two children, had a number of different employers, and (oddly enough) moved house about six times. The man sits, bemoaning his own thinning hair and wrinkles, while marvelling at how Kate is still, well, Kate. Cut to Kate, sitting swishing her hair (with a notable absence of empty IKEA boxes or jammy fingerprints on her white jeans). But the most annoying thing is Kate looks about twenty-five years old. Now, no matter what way you work that one out, the bloke’s wife would have to be at least in her early thirties and have a few pounds on her. She might still have nice hair colour, it might have even come out of the box she is advertising, but ‘Kate’ would not – COULD not – look like the supermodel in the ad. It’s a scientific implausibility. And it cheeses me off. Having been through a few kids, house moves and careers myself, I want Kate to look like she might have lost a couple of hours’ kip over the years.
Of course you can’t really blame the model employed to act the role of Kate for poor casting decisions. However, my compassion does not stretch to the annoying woman in the Pharmaton ad. Her, I want to slap. Nothing makes me madder on the 8.30 AM school run than listening to her chirpy little singing voice, banging on about how she’ll get to the gym, do a day’s work, pick up the dry cleaning, play a game of squash, help out at the soup kitchen (I may be paraphrasing here) all because she popped a vitamin pill. It’s just a load of baloney. Most days I can hardly muster up the energy to tidy away the breakfast things, and that’s after four Beroccas and a Red Bull. Stop lying to us, advertisers! Stop singing at us like we’re all fools. Give us some credit! Change the lyrics to something believable and I might consider investing in a month’s supply of your supplements. Even if constipation is the trade-off.
But the stupidest of all stupid ads is the recent one for Haagen Daz ice-cream. It starts promisingly enough with Bradley Cooper in a tuxedo. So far, so easy-on-the-eye. We get to see Bradley tucking into some vanilla chocolate chip, which is perfectly acceptable because we know Bradley can work that off later in the gym. But then, the love interest makes an appearance. It transpires that she is only after Bradley for one thing (his ice-cream) and she manages to lock him in a room while she’s stands outside and eats the ice-cream with her finger. All of which would have been fine, except the girl cast in the role is a size six on her fat-days. She would no more eat a tub of Haagen Daz than I would live on cabbage soup for a week. Puh-lease. Another product off my shopping list. (I was always more of a Ben and Jerry’s girl anyway.)
So listen, advertisers. Use your noggins. I’m guessing that it isn’t good practice to peeve your target audience by ridiculous casting and implausible scenarios. Give us something to strive for, sure, but don’t make it ridiculous unless you want us to disparage your product instead of buying it. There was a reason that Duncan Goodhew wasn’t cast in those Gillette ads. Stop treating consumers like we’re all stupid. And bring back the catchy jingles!
And then maybe we’ll buy your product.