Those Brits. So clever. So cheeky. Just watching sixty of their best TV commercials makes you want to pound down a few Guinnesses and go buy a . . . Toyota. Or a Volkswagen. Or maybe a Coke.
Yes, the annual British Television Advertising Awards are back at the Walker, offering a cultural window of sorts on our allies across the pond. This year’s entries offer all kinds of insights into Britain’s national character. Among them:
- They buy many of the same cars and beverages we do.
- They are not squeamish about vomiting.
- They know how to mike a fart.
- They can show nudity, but thankfully don’t most of the time.
- They have no idea how to judge advertising quality.
The Walker has been showing these awards for sixteen years, and they have become one of the museum’s most popular draws, maybe because everyone in the audience can understand them. They’re entertaining, too, in a way that sixty of the best U.S. commercials probably wouldn’t be, if only because we take our capitalism a bit more seriously here.
For example, when was the last time you saw a funny car commercial? Volkswagen and Toyota appear to be funding teams of comedy writers to entertain British citizens into automobile show rooms. Why do we get stuck watching earnest ads about luxury and quality? Personally, I’d rather laugh my way into debt.
One thing they do much better in Britain than we do is public service announcements. In America, of course, we try to address our most pressing social problems by hiring sitcom celebrities to remind our citizens not to break the law or act like an idiot. In Britain, they don’t fool around—they go straight for the jugular. You stare directly into the eyes of a child molester; you see a girl waste away into nothing from anorexia; you see the scars of breast cancer up close and personal; you watch as kids drink and puke and try to get home without killing themselves. It’s really quite refreshing. I just hope for Britain’s sake that these ads work, because if they don’t, the queen has some serious problems on her hands.
It’s impossible to talk about specific commercials without spoiling the punch lines, but let me say for the record that the judging of these awards was, as they would say in Britain, a bit dodgy. None of the Gold Award winners or the Commercial of the Year even came close to the clear winner of the year, which was criminally thrown in with a bunch of also-rans in the Silver category. I’m speaking about the brilliant series of spots for Pot Noodle, which is evidently a kind of Top Ramen–like instant soup. The series features a bunch of grimy-faced miners who supposedly descend into the bowels of the earth to mine veins of the precious pot noodles that make this soup so special. This commercial isn’t just clever and funny; it strives to build an entire mythology around a lousy clump of instant noodles. Now that’s ambitious advertising!
Too bad they don’t sell the stuff here—I’d buy a case of it and send it to Walker in protest. The Sony Bravia commercial by Fallon London that won this year’s Commercial of the Year was a shallow pretender to the throne. This year’s king was clearly Pot Noodle.
If you agree, please let me know. Maybe if enough of us complain, the geniuses behind the Pot Noodle fable will get a small portion of the recognition they deserve.
The 2007 British Television Advertising Awards continue at Walker Art Center through December 30.