Thursday, July 28, 2005

Adwatch (No. 97)

Most commercials are aspirational in some way, even if they're only about aspiring to have cleaner dishes or cleaner lavatory bowls.
Class, status and wealth are used, often without any attempt at subtlety, to sell products.
Yes, I'm stating the bleeding obvious here, but only for the purposes of contextualisation.

There are some products for which this approach is not an option. When your product and target market are such that depicting middle class or upwardly mobile people consuming it would simply provoke derision, you sometimes have no choice but to put social classes C2 and D29 in your commercials, or whatever the modern equivalents of those categories are. And in these cases the commercials do at least stand out from the crowd.

There used to be a commercial for a sandwich filler that showed horny-handed building workers being driven to the building site happily clutching their lunch boxes. I think the Cup-A-Soup and early Pot Noodle ads were rather similar until Pot Noodle hit on the idea of associating their product with illicit sexual pleasures. Those, appropriately for a product whose main ingredient comes out of a kettle, got them into a lot of hot water with the Moral Minority, but they were clever ads with the potential to 'broaden the client base' by implying that, just as members of the Holland Park chatterati are sometimes found kerb-crawling in the back streets of Kings Cross, so they might sometimes ditch the polenta and secretly get down and dirty with a Pot Noodle.

All of which brings me to the current intensive TV campaign for Kentucky Fried Chicken. This is not a product that you can easily associate with the rocket-eating, River Café-going classes.
The series of commercials has people singing, not particularly well, about the product rather in the style of an end of term musical at Daventry Community College, written by the pupils with some help from the well-meaning but musically-challenged drama teacher.

But it's the most recent one that intrigues me.
Imagine you were one of those adjectives-turned-nouns, a 'creative' in an advertising agency, and were asked to produce a commercial that featured a Bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (at £9.99) as a romantic dinner for two. You might very well start storyboarding your own journey to the 16th floor and descent to the street without a parachute.
But some brave soul has grasped the nettle, or the glutinous, deep-fried chicken wing, and given us a couple singing to each other in sub-operatic style over a cardboard bucket of Colonel Sander's finest.

They are in a rather dingy room with a few Argos-inspired design touches and in the presence of two young children. I don't know why, but I draw the inference that these kids are the offspring of only one of the couple and that either the man or the woman is a single parent who is dating again and didn't have the foresight to dump the kids on a relative. Unless, of course, the aphrodisiac properties of southern fried chicken ('southern', in this case, meaning Slough) took them completely by surprise like an attack of salmonella.

The woman is wearing an ill-fitting old cardigan and is called Tiffany. We know this because the man sings it at her at the height of his monosodium glutamate-induced passion. I'm not sure whether the name has any significance but, since the man suggests that they finish the last 69 pence of the bucket upstairs, we know that he will be having Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I've forgotten the name of the man, who is never going to threaten the career of Brad Pitt, because I'm too distracted by the dreadful black and white striped shirt that he's wearing. Somebody should slap an ASBO on that shirt. If it ever mixes fibres with Tiffany's cardigan, a sartorial mutation of Frankenstein proportions could result.

The two children observe this grisly, poultry-based courtship ritual with understandable distaste, their expressions suggesting that the cardboard bucket may come in handy as a receptacle for something other than chicken bones.

In the final shot, the boy reaches out and takes one of the cartons of Malteser ice cream. It's unclear whether he intends to eat it or is trying to ensure that they don't start smearing it over each other's bodies whilst moving on to a medley of songs from West Side Story.

I suppose I've proved that the ad is memorable, to me at least. But does it work? How tragic it would be if sales of Kentucky Fried Chicken remained static whilst sales of pale pink cardigans and black and white stripey shirts went through the roof and Tiffany became the name of choice for the country's little chavettes.


At 6:09 PM, Blogger Jane said...

I've missed this gem of an ad so far, I'm almost tempted to watch ITV until I see it, but but nah I think not your description is so good seeing the real thing would ruin it for me.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger patroclus said...

grisly, poultry-based courtship ritual!

That phrase has made my day. Already.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

jane, yes, I think you would be disappointed. When you have some fun with one of these things you create something that is far more complex and multi-layered than the original 30 second commercial. Although the people who make them might not agree with that.

patroclus, always delighted to make a young lady's day - in the only way I know how.
(Actually, that was a good line, even if I say so myself).

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know, I had always assumed that the besotted couple were man and wife, and those were indeed their offspring, and it was the power of the chicken that had driven them once more, after years of virtually ignoring each other, to these lurid heights of passion. However your interpretation is much more interesting, and that is the one I shall be focussing on in future, when the occasion arises.

Perhaps I have given this too much thought.

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Alan said...

Thankyou Willie. I'd never really understood why Kentucky Fried Chicken was sold in a bucket before. But now I understand the multi-purpose nature of the receptacle.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Geoff said...

I feel sick. Fried chicken and Breakfast at Tiffany's. I just keep thinking 'Mickey Rooney'.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger cello said...

Loved this post, Willie, but any temptation to egg you on was offset by the prospect of the ignominy, and certain career blight, of being discovered.

Thankfully KFC is not a client, but we did pitch for them once. Thank God we fucked it all up.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

"perhaps I have given this too much thought". That makes two of us Pashmina.
But your interpretation is equally plausible. I think I have the notion that advertisers now try to reflect 'contemporary lifestyles'. But who knows what was in the deranged mind of the 'creative' involved?

alan, since you will have had several pints before buying the KFC, you can also piss in the bucket on the late bus home.

geoff, it would have been more Rooneyesque if they'd said 'Hey kids, let's put on a show!'

cello, please never compromise yourself by commenting on these. I gave at least one of your clients a good kicking before you were a regular here.
Years ago I used to commute with a copywriter who used to begin by acquiring an intimate knowledge of the product. He once told me more than I wanted to know about a brand of bacon. This gives me some sympathy with the agency doing the KFC ads, although as I've said before, it used to be my 'Pot Noodle' and I used to secretly binge on the stuff. I think it was the furtiveness and dirtiness of it all that was addictive. Did you know they don't give you knives and forks in their restaurants? I used to need a strip wash in their toilet before slipping back into respectable society.


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