Things that I think and do
I usually detest TV adverts. To me there is little in this world more annoying than interrupting a programme every fifteen minutes so someone can tell us about how their bank will change the world, or how it’s my landlord’s fault that I hit my elbow on the door frame and I should sue, or that DFS is holding the BIGGEST SOFA SALE IN THE WORLD!!!! Again.
As well as the ubiquity of the bloody things, none of them are actually very good. What makes an advert good, you ask? Well, not provoking a blog post about how crap they are would be a good start. Most of them are just tedious, unobtrusive and tame, and the occasional surrealist perfume ads are just getting stupider each year. All I require from an advert is what the product is and how much it costs, and if I don’t want to buy discounted curtains then the best campaign in the world isn’t going to convince me.
The only exception I’ve found recently is the two-minute animatronic TSB epic, which despite its ultimately quite pointless message is rather well made. The first time I watched it I actually cried a little bit when the big musical key change happened and triumph was restored to the Kingdom of TSB. Watch it here and tell me it isn’t a feat of televisual genius.
I believe strongly that channels that use adverts should have a feature whereby you can choose to skip the ads during the show and just have them in one big lump at the end. That way the weirdos who like them can choose to see ads at regular intervals or in one big commerce-fest at the end, and it means I can just switch off and go and waste time on something else.
Inexplicably, and rather unfortunately, what I want isn’t a major consideration for TV bosses so I’m forced to consume TV programmes in manageable ten-minute chunks with no regard for continuity or enjoyment.
During one such break from a programme that I’d enjoyed the first quarter-hour segment of, I was obliged to sit through one advert which particularly intrigued me (which is saying something, as most of them are inane vignettes featuring a variety of regional accents and useless products that no-one wants). This advert was about hair, but wasn’t the usual drivel about how by using different shampoo you can empower yourself, attract any man in the vicinity and have luscious locks to show off to everyone in the café over a skinny latté.
I believe it was for Pantene, but frankly the brand is irrelevant. They all sexualise hair hygiene anyway so it could have been Loreal (“Bore-eal”) or Herbal Essences (“Gerbil Pleasantries”). The ‘plot’, such as it was, involved labels in society and how your hair can make you a better person or something like that.
It features the parallel lives of a man and a woman – who, incidentally, both seem to be remarkably good-looking and have wonderful hair already – and compares how they are seen through daily life. In a meeting the man is perceived as a “Boss” while the woman becomes “Bossy”. A man working late into the night is “Dedicated” while a woman is “Selfish”.
Until the end it’s not actually clear what the product is, so I was a little bit surprised by this ‘contradictory labels’ angle for most of the ad. I thought it would be an enlightening commentary on the tragic dichotomy of social gender perceptions and I was waiting for the big reveal of the heroic philanthropist planning to sort all this double standard sexism out.
But no. The tagline at the end, after the lovely woman had smiled and waved her hair about, was “Don’t let labels hold you back”, followed by “Be strong and shine” and an oddly-named hashtag (presumably for the Twitterists who like to tweet about shampoo) named “#WhipIt”.
I was most intrigued by this because of the fact that while the advertisers had clearly noticed this double standard of societal labels they made no attempt to condemn it or highlight it explicitly as an issue. In fact, they were using the labels as a selling point for the bloody shampoo – “don’t worry about all these unfair and biased labels, as long as you’ve got silky and shiny hair it’s alright”.
I suppose that they could have been making a subtle point about the whole problem. The soundtrack is one of those modern wishy-washy covers of “Mad World”, so we know that it’s ‘kind of funny and kind of sad’. Perhaps the #WhipIt is supposed to be some kind of subversive resistance call against sexism.
Even if it is (and frankly I doubt that) adverts aren’t supposed to be subtle. They’re supposed to tell us outright what we want and why we want it, and people don’t usually want to have to think actively about what the moral quandary presented in the ad might be.
If I wanted to analyse TV adverts I’d have carried on with Media Studies at school. As it is, I don’t want to see them at all, so making one which appears to highlight societal flaws then diverts dramatically away from the issue isn’t my idea of a good campaign. The occasional advert that makes you think can be a good thing, but Pantene (or whoever it is) have sold out a bit at the end of this one. It’s going really well until their stupid catchphrase comes up and effectively undermines the entirety of the preceding footage.
To stop this kind of stuff happening in the future, I’ve come up with a simple ad campaign which can be used universally for all shampoo brands. Get someone (man or woman, or perhaps both) to walk on screen, hold up the bottle and say something like, “Buy this shampoo. It makes your hair clean and it’s quite cheap”.