Last year I went to my first ball game. Last night I watched my first S**** B*** . So today I settled down to watch some adverts:
I’m not even going to begin to pretend that I understand Budweiser’s, ahem, long running, Clydesdale Horses. And I was brought up but a haggis throw from Clydesdale itself. In old Scotchland. Worse, when I once briefly worked for the advertising agency who created them, well thought up the idea of using them at any rate, they would be presented by our American management after all of the other generally very good and very funny work from Chicago with a pregnant pause before a near religious fervour fell over the room.
Among the un-American of us they were mostly received in utter bafflement. Some things just don’t cross the Atlantic. In either direction. And Budweiser’s Clydesdale Horses are, I’m afraid, like Foie Gras and Jarvis Cocker, very firmly among them.
Last night’s episode had a puppy in it. And that’s the first and last time you’ll read the p word in this post. I watched it three times before I had the faintest idea of what was going on. But then again it is never wise to start a TV commercial with a sign. No matter how popular your stars. Many years ago my first creative director was fond of describing incomprehensible TV scripts as ‘we open on a man wishing it was tuesday’. The sort of idea, in other words, that really needs to start with a sign.
‘Make Love Not War’could well be a sign. In fact it was one once. But as the tag line to the new Axe campaign premiered in the S**** B*** at least it doesn’t need to start with one. No. It’s a smart and timely move on from ‘The Axe Effect’ and as such is probably just about believable enough to save it from all the flack (sorry) that’s no doubt already incoming.
The implicit suggestion that if only Bashir al Assad or Kim Jong-un just smelt a bit nicer then they’d stop butchering their populations or feeding their relatives to the dogs and feel the love is certainly a novel take on the whole chemical weapons thing. Novel and utterly preposterous as well but certainly no less so than anything currently on offer from say Apple or Honda. In fact for a fragrance brand at least it almost has the faint whiff of possibility. Besides it’s only an advert.
And for the most part this first one at least has a lightness of touch that allows the Komedy Korean and The Central Asian Dictator characters to pretty much get away with most their business. In fact the briefcase bomb/firework detonator sight gag worked a treat and the rest of it could maybe do with a bit more of that inspired silliness rather than trying to tick the romantic drama box with a soviet tank in black and white Kiev. That’s only going to start rattling the trolls. And I think that you can sort of see why.
Oddly the tanks were one of the few things missing from Microsoft’s almost frame by frame ‘homage’ to Gerard de Thame’s vintage Stephen Hawking spot for BT.
Made so long ago the original actually had good reason to be talking about talking rather than talking about spying. Or indeed vice versa. There being little in the way of data around to worry about then.
But isn’t that Goonhilly Down? Or GCHQ or somewhere? Well I don’t know. You just can’t trust anyone these days.
Except Radio Shack perhaps. At least they had the nuts to come right out and say to America’s biggest TV audience of the year: “We’re really sorry that our stores are crap. That’s because, like a lot of corporate America, we’ve been pretty much stripped to the bone by vulture capitalists”. They didn’t actually say the second bit but somehow you could sense that they wanted too. In much the same way that Scarlett Johansen wanted to say ‘sorry’ to Coke and Pepsi. And, yes, thank you, Scarlett, when I’m next writing my list of things that I really must do to save the planet I’ll be sure and put ‘buy a sodastream’ on it right near the top.
But where was Pepsi anyway after all the fuss? I’m sorry but I’d have thought that the least you could do after a network has censored a competitor’s commercial on your behalf was to show up with a few million bucks to say thanks. Doritos, the ‘anti-pepsi’, was there and I rather enjoyed their Cowboy Kids but that’s not the same thing. Or even the real thing. As the Coke spot ran perilously close to being the flattest thing on offer all evening. I guess they must be saving their big guns (sorry) for Sochi on Friday.
But I digress, the Radio Shack spot, much like the only store I’ve ever set foot in, promised a lot more than it delivered. After a neat opening in which the eighties call: “they want their store back” it quickly descends into a prolonged bout of cosplay looting before inexplicably ending on a lingering shot of a completely empty store. A subliminal metaphor for the unequal contest that is Wall Street v Main Street perhaps? Or just a warning to hobbyists hoping to stock up on parts for a spot of DIY metadata gathering?
Of the many star spangled car spots Jaguar left no Brit cliche unturned but it was all nicely done and it certainly made me feel proud to be Scottish.
A good deal more so than David Beckham in his underpants again certainly. Do you not think you’re getting a bit old for all that now, by the way David? And what on earth do the children make of it? VW couldn’t seem to make it’s mind up between art house cinema and a butt joke eother in the end and so rather fell between two stools as it were. Unless the ‘rainbows out of their buts’ gag was a subliminally subversive Winter Olympics boycott reference in which case it’s a certain gold for something or other.
Fellow Germans Audi just seem to go on getting weirder and weirder albeit not necessarily always in a good way. Doberhuahua did make me laugh out loud despite myself but after all the fuss about Car Shame I have an uneasy sense that someone in Germany is likely going to put a stop to all this sometime quite soon.
All of which brings us finally to His Bobness and the Chrysler shilling. And while I like and respect Bob Dylan and all his works above most living artists I simply cannot either defend him or forgive him here.
I can well see the temptation, of course, and even the cold hearted commercial logic, of casting the old Bard of Hibbing in the footsteps of Eminem and Clint. The trouble is that unlike Eminem or Clint, Bob’s just not, well, visual. Which is not really a terribly good place to start when you’re making a TV commercial.
Not that the script did him any great favours either. Where Eminem and Clint’s lines were patriotic, Bob had to make the most of a first draft cliched chauvinism that was both lazily inaccurate and ultimately unconvincing: “let Germany make your beer” (actually it’s the Belgians and the Brazilians these days, Bob), “let Asia assemble your smartphone” (Samsung? assemble? ouch), and most bizarrely: “let Switzerland make your watches”. Er, instead of what exactly? Your cheese? Your penknives? Oh, your cars. Right you are then Bob, no more Swiss cars. Consider it done.
It’s just a shame that we didn’t get to hear a bit more of ‘Things Have Changed’ on the soundtrack though. Originally written for the movie ‘Wonder Boys’ it’s a good song and one that he’s recently taken to performing live again:
”People are crazy and times have changed. I’m locked in tight I’m out of range. I used to care but things have changed…”