Friday, 7 December 2012

Tops and bottoms. There you are.

We’re heading into the end of the year, and I thought I’d present my thoughts on a couple of adverts that have caught my eye this year. As it happens, a lot of adverts catch my eyes, but these two caught me in a particularly strong manner.
I’m going to start with the bad. I hope, by now, that everyone has seen this ad. If you haven’t, you probably should, because until you see it no words of mine will convince you of the depths of its ridiculous, nonsensical, over-the-top idiocy.
I’m talking about Brad Pitt and Chanel Nº 5.
Here is the man himself.

The thing is, it’s an incredibly bold move that really could have gone either way. A man promoting women’s perfume is actually a pretty big step. The vast majority of all perfume is sold (I want to say hawked, but that seems so crude) by the gender it’s aimed at; the underlying message always “Buy this, and you can be like me” - a message taken to its ultimate extreme by the Old Spice ads, which were another favourite of this year.

But by and large, men’s toiletries are sold by men to men, and women’s to women by women. But here’s a man selling women’s to women. (I hope you’re keeping up; there may be a test at the end.) This is such a big move that it could have been an absolute triumph. I absolutely believe that. Brad Pitt speaking with moody lighting should be a dream mix, and that “should” is probably why he scored $7million for the advert.
I believe the error came when whoever was hired by Chanel (this advert was done in-house, unlike my top ad) to write the script sat down, read Éluard’s works from cover to cover and then believed he was as good. I would say he was not.
The advert has since spawned paraody after parody, and the elegance Chanel once hoped for may have been shrouded by, among other things, a very cute little hamster. And it's probably not been helped by the fact that Pitt himself once stared in a film where his
character railed against the advertising industry. If you need to ask who that character was
then I can't tell you, because of the first and second rules.
Thing is, that script was brilliantly powerful - "Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need."
That's the kind of scriptwriter Chanel needed.

Instead? Less Brad Pitt and more Brad Pittiful. (I wish I could claim that joke as my own, but it’s from the excellent Tim Minchin and his song about love and statistics, If I Didn’t Have You)

So what’s the best? The best ad of the year? There’s no doubt that John Lewis’ offering this year is spectacular, and they continue to win that contest. Tesco’s W + K powered offerings are good, but they show real life - and nobody wants real life at Christmas. Look at John Lewis’ advert from last year; they showed us a premise that was completely familiar: a child desperately waiting for Christmas. We assumed that this was because, like all children we know (and, were we honest, we once were) it was impatient to open its presents at the crack of dawn.

And then, of course, they pulled that rug from under our feet and revealed that it was because the child was so excited about giving a gift to his parents. Hearts broke across the nation; tears ran down the wrinkled face of even the most Scroogey of Scrooges.
That’s not real life, but it’s so close to it that we can almost taste it. We want it so desperately that our hearts yearn for it when we are presented with it. And that’s why Tesco’s ads, though fun and true, aren’t ever going to beat that John Lewis ad - and it’s why even John Lewis will never be able to top it. They’ve played that card, and can never go there again.

My top ad really is real life. It’s the greatest ad of the year, and I would be willing to argue the decade, because it takes a struggle we all deal with but suspect we are alone in. It showed us, beautifully, exceptionally, that our mums are the most important people in the world. They’re not professional coaches or famous people that we’ll meet but they are still the most important, the single greatest person in our lives.

Just a warning - if this doesn’t jerk a couple of tears out of you, then be aware that you could be a robot. If you suspect you are a robot, please do talk to someone.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m crying at the end of that. It’s incredibly moving, with inspiring music, swift movement from place to place, and trials interspersed with victory. Everyone wins, and the fierce joy and pride on every mother’s face is immediate and striking to anyone. We’ve watched these kids grow up in a two minute advert, and we’ve seen the the way that it was Mum who started it off, who gave that gentle push to get up, who held our hand all the way and who shared our despair and our joy.
I don’t think this advert will make anyone buy more P&G products; they own almost everything already and at the end of the day, this wasn’t really an advert about P&G. There’s barely a single reference to the company, a trend that was started by the brilliant Cadbury’s ad featuring that gorilla.

This was an advert that suggested that P&G knew what it was to be a mother and a parent; to feel the love that is so all-encompassing that just to touch it, as we do in this advert, brings tears to the eyes. It is an absolute triumph of an advert, and I suspect it will be talked of for many, many years to come.

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