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.