Why has TV advertising gone down the toilet?



Can someone at EDF please tell me what a small, brownish blob has to do with electricity?  I have questions: none of them about switching my power supplier. What is this blob? Why is it sitting in a bird bath and riding a dog? It looks like … it can’t be … is it a poo?

It’s all over their website too. No explanation, just the dog with whatever-it’s-rolled-in taking root on its back. There’s another picture below, of ‘Mr Hanky’ inviting us to ‘play’. I don’t think so. My children squeal hysterically every time it comes on TV, “It even has the pointy end, mum!”

Guinness surfersWithout wanting to sound like an old fart, I remember when certain companies were as famous for their entertaining ads as their products. Guinness: tick follows tock … Neptune’s horses thundering behind old-man surfers, who’ve patiently waited for the perfect wave. Hints of Melville, Joyce and Thomas in the poem, set to Leftfield beats. Great Big Themes: Art. And all to demonstrate that good things – like the slow-pouring black velvet they’re selling – come to those who wait. “Here’s to waiting.” Bloody brilliant. Or, to quote an even older Guinness ad: “Pure Genius.”

Levis ads were equally awesome. Unknown recording artists scrambled to offer their music as backdrop, because these sassy little mini-movies sold as many records as they did trousers. Street cred and career could be launched simultaneously with a fast-[sound]track to number one, courtesy of the oldest jeans in the world. Musicians went from ‘please let me in Mr Bouncer,’ to ‘sure I’ll accept free membership to your hip club,’ in one smooth, denim-clad strut.

For those products unmatched to art or in-your-face youth culture, there was always cracking humour: Levis (again) Carling Black Label, Hamlet Cigars, Castlemaine XXXX. Long story short, ad breaks were actually quite fun. If a good ad came on, it could drag me back to the telly, my half-made cuppa abandoned in the kitchen. Take note, EDF: THAT is power.

BT ad 1980s

Beattie on her BT phone

Sure, TV has changed and TV ads had to evolve. But simply chucking a bit of social media in does not a progression make. Following in the illustrious steps of Oxo (stock cubes – family grows up around a casserole dish) and Gold Blend (coffee – subtly roasted porn), BT attempted to get their ad audience to ‘join in’, with a reality TV meets soap opera style ‘series’. Even though the faces were famous, nobody cared whether they got together or had a baby and whether they spoke via BT lines, on Skype or by carrier pigeon. We all preferred Maureen Lipman’s 1980s exclamation of, ‘he’s got an -ology!’ when she phoned her grandson to congratulate him on his underwhelming GCSE results. Now that was clever. And her character was called Beattie. (BT, geddit?)

The Go Compare ad

The Go Compare ad

We have never been further from those heady hey days of TV ads. In our presumably enlightened 2013, rather than entice customers with sheer imagination, dramatic thrills or a good, old-fashioned chortle, marketers have turned to the spoiltest of brats for inspiration and decided to annoy us into buying their wares.  The most played ad of the last year has been voted so eyebrow-tuggingly irritating, that the chap playing the lead character (a Welshman called Wynne Evans) had to go into hiding. The company was forced to create a counter-campaign where said refugee, an opera singer, was bumped off in ever more ‘hilarious’ ways, or risk alienating its customer base. Of course, it was for Go Compare: the ad equivalent of a child tantrumming next to you at the supermarket checkout on a particularly busy Christmas Eve.

What the F…igaro does opera have to do with a price comparison website? Gimmicks are fine, we all get the point of a hook that makes the product/service/whatever being sold more memorable than its competition. But there was a time when gimmicks bore at least a tenuous link to the marketable item. A bank would give away piggie banks, for example.

How the hell did we reach this level of madness: an opera singer selling a website, a turd selling electricity?

TV ads are now quite literally shit. I only watch shows I’ve Sky+d so that I never have to subject myself to the agony of watching the bollocky, pappy ads. Half the time, I don’t even know what they’re trying to sell me. And even if I did, I’d be so irritated by ten seconds in, I’d be looking for something to hurt myself with, just to take my mind of the screen.

Ad dudes: are you duping us? I’ve seen sites suggesting how people can knit little EDF poop toys for their children (it’s called, ‘Zingy’, by the way, the arse nugget). If you’re all splitting your sides with mirth at how you’ve convinced kids to play with a cuddly dump, then shame on you. If not, and this is a serious campaign, shame on you with bells on. Joke’s not funny. Sort this shit out.


About Sally Nursten

Writer. Mother. Lover of life and all its twisty-turny ways.
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