TiVo has excised commercials from my life, and most of the year I feel pretty smug about that.
One of the many gifts of my god-sent DVR is making commercially interrupted programming instantly commercial free. I can shrink 60 Minutes to forty by sending the Cialis ads and Lipitor pitches into a fast-forwarded blur. The hours I've saved juicing the system--it's impressive.
But now here comes those damn British Television Advertising Awards. The advertising industrial complex's annual revenge against the TiVos of the world is screening to sold-out Walker audiences through December 30, and this latest collection of award-winning commercials once again makes an extremely persuasive case for buying budget beer, mass-market beauty elixirs, high-def TVs, and homely cars only a Brit could love.
Sandwiched into your favorite television drama, commercials are a nuisance, a bore--and, in these days of nonstop erectile dysfunction ads, they can make for some awkward family viewing. But collected into a greatest-hits montage, these shameless appeals to the consumer beast magically transform into a brilliant festival of super-short films.
One thing the British Television Advertising Awards are not is particularly British. As befits our world of corporate conglomerates, many of the winning commercials this year push multinational brands and are the creations of an international corps of ad world poobahs and Hollywood celebs. So much for reading the British tea leaves.
Peddling the Spanish bubbly Freixenet, director Martin Scorsese pulls off a nine-minute Alfred Hitchcock homage that pokes fun at his own geeky obsessiveness. The over-the-top commercial stars a full orchestra, The Mentalist's Simon Baker (dolled up to look like Cary Grant), the creative tinkering of Ocean's Eleven scribe Ted Griffin, and the camerawork of famed cinematographer Ellen Kuras. I love Marty--but, really, do we need more of that smartest-kid-in-the-class shtick to sell a bottle of booze?
On the other end of the spectrum, there's Harmony Korine, indie film's favorite ethnographer of dissolute teens. Watching his weirdly sweet ad for the Thortons chain of chocolate stores, you'd never know it came from the same demented brain as Kids and Gummo.
Continuing the parade of stars, the husky voice describing the orgiastic pleasures of Lurpak butter is none other than creepy Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, best known for playing the Christopher Walken part in Blade Runner . And that sexy British dame purring about cellphone giant Vodfafone? The internationally adored, Oscar-winning Judi Dench. (If you're reading this, Vodafone creatives, may I suggest putting those other mid-life English hotties, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Rampling, and Kristin Scott Thomas, on retainer?)
In an ad for the male body spray Lynx Vice, there's even a Morgan Freeman doppelgänger chronicling the potion's magical magnetism: "turns nice girls naughty". The film-noirish spot looks like the cutting-room trimmings from one of those C-grade Freeman-Ashley Judd thrillers from a few years ago.
Not to fear, though, in between the expected deluge of planet-sensitive ad campaigns (most persuasively for the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion, promising 74.3 mph!) and scared-straight public-service announcements (guns, drugs, bullies, pet neglect, prostate health), you'll find plenty of clever spots for cutely named British foodstuffs (Squeezy Marmite, Fruit Pastilles) and the usual good-humored salutes to favored English sports (rugby, soccer, beer drinking). There's also a series of commercials for PG Tips tea, featuring a really disturbing sock monkey that could only be the creation of some daft English mind.
Several of the car commercials borrow from American touchstones (car as surrogate for masculinity, money, sex, freedom), but many others are finely calibrated to the Brits' instincts for self-effacement and frugality. A Volkswagen Golf ad set to "The Great Pretender" follows an out-of-step corporate climber to make its case for "the power of understatement." And a series of viral ads for Renault's special-edition car with surfer clothier Rip Curl follows two doughy blokes outfitted to go surfing but taking cover in the safety of their tiny Clio Rip Curl. The subliminal message: Be you, a dork with a thrift-chic car.
I was also amused by a commercial that snuck in with a decidedly anti-advertising message: the spot for the British subscription-movie service Sky Movies envisions cityscapes stripped of billboards "because you like your movies with no interruption." (I'll say the same for my TV shows.)
And then there's that cultural Rorschach test from Cadbury that took "Best Commercial of the Year" honors. Funny, yes, but what the hell does it have to do with chocolate? You be the judge:
Then again, how many commercials can instantly spawn a cottage industry of parodies and spinoffs?: