Category Archives: Advertising

Warning: this entry may cause mild tedium

I’ve always been a keen follower of TV advertscommercials from my earliest days of watching television. Admittedly, we spent most of our TV viewing time watching the BBC, where the only commercials were for that week’s editions of the Radio Times. But on the occasions we switched over for Coronation Street or It’ll Be Alright On The Night 4, I couldn’t wait for the end of the show so that the ads could begin.

Particular favourites included the footballsoccer related spot for Birdseye Steakhouse Grills (“we hope it’s chips, it’s chips, we ho-o-ope it’s chips, it’s chips”), the old-fashioned ad for Cadbury’s Fudge (“a finger of Fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat”) and who could argue with the Tango ads – even if they did kickstart the whole happy slapping “craze”.

Even when I was a kid, I had a bit of a thing for beer commercials. Sure, Melanie Sykes and her “do you want a Flake with that, love?” Manc drawl for Boddingtons may have had something to do with that. But who didn’t love the Carling Black Label “Dambusters” ad, or the succession of lager commercials from Down Under which claimed that Australians couldn’t give a Castlemaine XXXX for anything else?

But the series of ads I always loved most was for Carlsberg, with their claim that the fizzy watery concoction was “probably the best lager in the world”. It wasn’t so much that the adverts were amusing, although they generally were. But what I really loved was the tagline, chosen so that they didn’t get sued by rival manufacturers for making claims that they couldn’t actually substantiate. It’s like calling Brit Out Of Water “probably the best expat blog in New York” just so that Fish Without A Bicycle or Big Apple Little Britainer don’t get on my case.

Now on the rare occasions I get to watch TV, I’m forced to watch commercials that have about as much subtlety as a six year old with a new drumkit. Actually there are some occasional highlights such as the ads for ETrade, but generally they’re just thirty second shoutathons imploring us to buy something we don’t really need.

But like the Carling ads not wanting to overclaim, I can’t help but love the commercials for various pharmaceutical solutions, with their seemingly endless list of caveats and warnings about why their drugs might not work or why they may kill you if you use them. Most of the “spoken small print” is longer than the commercial itself, and depending on the drug involved, can cover paralysis, fits or blindness. And that’s if you’re lucky. It must kill these drugs companies to have mention every single possible side effect. Which explains why most of them employ the world’s fastest speaking man to deliver the message.

Now there’s an anti-coagulant drug called Plavix which has taken a whole new approach to the small print, employing an actor to pose as a doctor, gently informing his patient of the possible downside of using the drug. Frankly the actor isn’t going to win an Emmy for his performance – I’ve seen more convincing conspiracy theories about the death of a princess – but you’ve got to give respect to the drug company and ad agency for giving it a go.

Personally, I think I’d prefer a simple “look, we think this might work, but we saw a couple of dodgy results with the lab rats, and to be honest it could go either way. Take a chance on it if you like, but just don’t blame us if it all goes a bit haywire, OK?”.

Honesty in advertising? It’ll never catch on.

How to get a red in advertising

There’s a health food store down at the end of the block from us, offering anything from frozen dinners to seaweed extract. To be honest, the ‘health food’ tag is a complete misnomer, given that the price of organic fruit and vegetables is enough to give anyone a cardiac arrest. Only Russian oil oligarchs are likely to walk out of there with any sense that they haven’t just been robbed blind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for avoiding pesticides on my courgetteszucchini, but do I really need to seek out a sub-prime mortgage in an attempt to buy them? Given the relative strength of the pound, I could probably get a short city break in Amsterdam for the price of a Granny Smith or two.

Last week, The Special One called me as I made my way back to Brooklyn from the office, asking me to pick up a few tomatoes for a salsa she was making. A reluctance to deviate particularly far from my direct path home from the subway meant a trip to the health food store was the only option. And sure enough, when the woman at the counter weighed my chosen selection, I discovered I had to pay twenty five cents short of ten dollars for five medium sized tomatoes.

Biting my tongue to prevent an involuntary attack of Tourette’s Syndrome, I tromped home with my booty (for the avoidance of doubt, that’s a reference to the tomatoes, not my arseass). Once back in the apartment, I took the tomatoes from their plastic bag, and put them on the chopping board in order to cut them up.

And then I noticed it. A small black sticker on the outside of each of my tomatoes. Not your usual sticker giving the shop assistant the necessary code to type into the cash register, no sir. Sure, it had the code on it – 4664 actually, if you must know. But this was a fruit and veg sticker with a difference.

In this day and age, it would appear, nothing is sacred when it comes to advertising. At least, not if you work for Disney. Because there on the side of the tomato was a tiny oval advert for the DVD and Blu-Ray release of animated movie Ratatouille.

In America, billboards, TV commercials and print advertising are no longer enough in a bid to capture our dollars, it would appear. Now they’ve launched an all-out attack on our greengrocers too. I can just imagine the Pixar marketing meeting now:

“Right, how are we going to get people to buy this movie.”

“Well, I’ve had an idea. The film’s called Ratatouille, and one of the main ingredients of an actual ratatouille is a tomato. So why don’t we advertise on every tomato we can lay our hands on? It’s the ultimate call-to-action!”

“You’re a genius! Only over-priced organic ones though – this is a classy movie, after all.”

I thought I’d seen everything when it came to advertising, but clearly not. It’ll be potatoes shaped like Daniel Craig for the next Bond movie, I tell you.

Just ask a New Yorker

While I’m in New York, I suppose I fall into that weird world somewhere between being a foreign outsider and a local. After all, I’m marrying a US citizen, and over the last thirteen years I’ve spent more time in New York than any other city in the world other than London.

With that in mind, maybe New York’s new marketing campaign designed to make tourists and foreigners feel more welcome in the city isn’t really aimed at me? I’ve always found people from this city to be among the nicest and most helpful people I’ve ever met, but tourist bosses reckon that there’s a perception that New Yorkers are too busy or rude to help out a visitor who’s struggling or lost. And with a decline in visitor numbers to the US hitting the city’s bottom line hard, they’re determined to do something about it.

As such, they’ve come up with an advertising campaign with the strap line “Just Ask The Locals”, featuring celebrity residents including Robert de Niro and Julianne Moore giving their insider’s guide to the city. Admittedly the vast majority of the adverts appear inside the ‘international’ terminal at JFK, but tourists and locals alike will also be able to see video ads in the city’s cabs (if they get fitted with a GPS system, that is) and at various bus shelters.

The idea is that locals should feel free to idly wander up to strangers and give them some tips on those hidden Big Apple gems, such as Pete’s Tavern (recommended by comedian Jimmy Fallon), the Frick Museum (artist Chuck Close) and the Mediterraneo Restaurant (former New York Giants star Tiki Barber).

Launching the campaign, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said:

“Giving out that kind of advice is something that’s going to come naturally to us. New Yorkers have never been shy or reticent to tell people what they think.”

A couple of things spring to mind, other than Bloomberg’s implicit suggestion that people from New York are rude enough to shove their opinion down other people’s throats regardless of whether they want it or not.

Firstly, while it’s impressive to have de Niro and Moore on board, the rest of the celebrities will barely be recognised on the streets of New York, let alone by foreign tourists from Japan or Germany. Jimmy Fallon’s bid to break out of Saturday Night Live hasn’t exactly rivalled Dan Ackroyd or Mike Myers. Similarly Tiki Barber may be the New York Giants’ all-time rushing and reception leader, but if he hasn’t appeared alongside Jimmy Parrott on A Question of Sport, don’t expect any Brits to recognise him. Maybe getting celebrities that visitors have actually heard of would have been the way forward?

As for Chuck Close, he doesn’t even live in the city, but instead prefers to hide out a good couple of hours away in Bridgehampton. It’s like asking me to dole out advice to tourists on which restaurants to visit in Basingstoke*.

But clearly there’s one easy way to make tourists feel that they’re welcome in this city, and indeed the United States as a whole – do something about those immigration officers. They’re generally the first person that tourists meet once they step foot on American soil, and yet they manage to combine all the charm of a serial killer with the zealous administrative intransigence of a recently-jilted Inland Revenue employee. Hardly the kind of welcome that has you wanting to don a ten-gallon Stetson and perform a quick do-si-do to the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.

Obviously these good men and women have to do their jobs, and make sure that they don’t let any old riff-raff into the country. But is it really too much to ask for a smile?

* Try Galletto’s on London Street – their seafood tagliatelle is to die for…