We can't even afford standards
For years, mainstream comedians out to make a few easy bucks have hosted TV programmes showcasing advertising oddities from around the world. Jasper Carrott, Rory McGrath, Jo Brand, Jim Davidson, Jon Culshaw and most recently Jimmy Carr, have each happily banked their money for old rope in the form of "humorous" interjections and segues between collections of advertising clips. And you know what? It often made for pretty easy viewing, too. There was the barely disguised soft-porn from Scandinavia, and of course the products with poorly researched English names - who could forget the 'JussiPussi' Finnish dinner rolls, the 'Creamy Colon' Japanese biscuits or indeed the poetic 'Cock on the Mountain Top' fruit in syrup from Thailand?
But more than these factors was an overall unspoken pointing and sniggering at the approach, subject matter, naked aggression or complete other-worldliness that Johnny Foreigner accepted as a legitimate means of advertising. It was reassuring to know that while Britain may have lost its status as a world superpower in so many areas, we still hold some sway in matters of good taste and good sense...at least with regard to advertising.
Should the current economic crisis persist much longer, however, Jimmy Carr will be able to present a show featuring adverts aired exclusively for the British market. Boys and girls, standards are slipping and we are becoming that which we mocked all too quickly. Dotted here and there in the TV schedules, adverts are appearing that are so unlikely and so jarring as to make grinning lunatic Barry Scott bellowing about the virtues of Cillit Bang seem like high art.
So what's occurring? Well, in these cash-strapped times advertising budgets have inevitably been hit. In our own industry, advertising strategy has split into two broad camps. Firstly there are those (largely the supermarkets) who have upped TV ad spend in order to push their value credentials and defend market share. Secondly, there are those (most of everyone else) who have slashed TV budgets and/or migrated their marketing online. This pattern of haves and have-nots is replicated across almost every sector and the net effect is that increasingly desperate TV sales execs are being left with advertising slots to fill. Desperation equals flexibility on price and flexibility on price makes TV advertising accessible to a broader swathe of companies and hey presto, prime time TV is being invaded by sub-standard bilge that would be more at home on late, late night, American public access TV.
Many of these airwave invaders are easy enough to spot; their poor, time-warped quality and obscure products a quick giveaway allowing viewers to grab the remote and switch over. Others, however, are rather more sly, taking on the appearance of a regular piece of advertising before revealing themselves to be crass, ill-considered and often stomach-churning.
Take for example my personal pet hate at the moment: DulcoEase. You may well have seen it as it is going out quite a lot during prime time hours. If there is a bright centre to the advertising universe, then the DulcoEase campaign is on the planet furthest from it.
It starts with three professional looking mid-30s women lunching at an airy bistro, jangly piano music in the background - all very Sex and the City. They are joined by a friend who actually looks rather like the tall ginger one from S&TC. But wait, all's not well with the new arrival; "What's up, bad hair day?" mocks a plastic-faced blonde in a suit, as the others simper appreciatively. The first time I saw the ad, I anticipated the issue to be something to do with indigestion or maybe 'women's problems'. I had not expected Ginger to launch into: "When I went to the loo...BOWEL stuff, it was hard and really uncomfortable again..."
OK so we have down-shifted from Sex and the City to Sex and the Sh*tty, but where the hell was the advert taking us? A new chain of kebab houses? A new range of mung bean-related ready meals? Nope. It was for stool softener. DulcoEase stool softener. That phrase again: stool softener. Luckily for the granite-pooed red head, blondey was able to produce a packet of the aforementioned stool softener from her purse, saying "We all get that from time to time!" The clear implication was that every thrusting young exec automatically put DulcoEase in their handbags just as readily as they would their mobile phone. This idiotic construction of popular culture, fashion, excrement and sore bottoms was 'topped' so to speak by the graphic, tasteless pun of a tag-line 'Pass it on'...God help us all. What is going on? We're British - we don't discuss poos (irrespective of their consistency) on prime time telly. Not unless we're in the jungle with a bunch of celebrities anyway.
But it's not just that I resent being put off my dinner by the stool softener, it's that the advert is so utterly without merit. They have tried to glamourise the unglamourisable - to coin a particularly appropriate phrase, you can't polish a turd. Not only that but, though I don't confess to understand women, there's just no way on earth I can ever see them discussing their bowel movements so openly. In fact it's my experience that when conversations turn lavatorial most women of my acquaintance simply tut or complain that the man (for it is always a man) is being disgusting.
In fact, if the ad agency had wanted to in any way ground the commercial in reality it would have replaced the four executive sex kittens with four blokes. You'd totally buy a bloke coming out of a pub toilet wincing to his football-watching mates and telling them all about it: "Blimey, that was like pushing out a razor-covered scud missile - my backside looks like a Labour Party rosette". "You want to get yourself up the chemists and get some of that DulcoEase poo softener mate...but get the beers in before you go". It wouldn't be delicate, it would still offend but at least it'd show some acknowledgement of the real world. They might even sell a few packets.
If you'd like to comment on any of Jack's article or share rant about something that irritates you, email email@example.com. It might tempt him out of the cupboard, and maybe he'll write about what annoys you!