Adwatch - No 62
The future of these occasional pieces is threatened by the fact that I increasingly turn off the sound during commercial breaks and bury my head in a newspaper.
I do so because of the increasing number of ads that are about, or related to, bodily functions. I think they should be banned. I don't understand why they never seem to figure in the complaints to the various regulators.
Most of us today watch television whilst eating and with more flexible meal times and more 'snacking' than 40 years ago, we could be munching on something at any time of day or night. And when we're eating we don't want close-ups of lavatory bowls or babies' bottoms thrust in our face. Nor discussions of women's periods or vaginal thrush.
Cable channels seem to show an abnormally large number of commercials about diarrhoea. I'm not sure whether this is because viewers of minority interest cable channels are particularly prone to bowel problems or because the makers of diarrhoea remedies have a small budget and can't afford the rates on ITV1.
I'm saying 'we', but perhaps I'm a particularly sensitive soul in this respect. I like to keep input and output in separate mental compartments.
I know that some people have a more robust attitude because I once worked with a woman who used to eat her lunchtime sandwiches in a cubicle in the staff toilets. She did this because she had ill-fitting dentures and was embarrassed when they kept falling out. Other women who were powdering their noses said they could hear her masticating and the occasional clatter of dentures hitting the tiled floor.
One of the most intensive campaigns at the moment is for potty training nappies. Another is for some kind of special toilet-training toilet paper and an associated special soap which turn little girls into a princess flying through fairyland in a shower of stardust. The most offensive thing about these is the voice-over by, I think, Mariella Frostrup, and the entire stomach-turning concept. I assume they are aimed partly at toddlers themselves who will demand their own special toilet paper and soap and crap on the carpet if they don't get it.
I've never toilet-trained a child but I toilet-trained a puppy without any special paper, soap or fairyland fantasies, just 'Bad dog!' and 'Good dog!' as appropriate.
There's nothing particularly graphic in these ads, unlike one of the most offensive ones of recent years which showed a small boy sitting on the lavatory holding his nose and saying 'Pooh, it's a good thing Mum's got this new Fart Guard air freshener', or words to that effect.
That brings me to something rather unusual. There's a commercial for a brand of toilet paper which has been re-recorded with a different actor doing the voice-over but everything else is the same. It's an animation with a man's voice saying to a child "Don't worry, poppet......." followed by something about the absobent qualities of the paper.
Until recently, this was a rich, plummy, fruity, upper-class voice. Suddenly it has been replaced by a younger, neutral, classless man's voice. But why? Did the agency find that people thought the former voice sounded like an elderly, Old Etonian child molester? "Don't worry, poppet, your mother said you could come with me and go to the toilet in the woods." (I should have explained that the animation is set in the woods and the voice belongs to a bear. And we all know what bears do in the woods.)
Since commercials are tested on focus groups before they ever go on television, it puzzles me that the voice-over was suddenly changed after it had been shown hundreds of times and I can't recall another example of this happening.
I was once part of an advertising road-test myself. It was the 1970s and I was walking along Piccadilly when a young girl stopped me and asked me if I'd care to step into a basement for a beer. I was about to make my excuses and return to work when she explained that they were testing commercials for a beer called Double Diamond.
I was seated in front of a television with an ample supply of the said beer and asked to watch a series of different commercials. The problem was that I'd already drunk as much beer in my lunch break as would enable me to get through the afternoon without falling asleep. The free Double Diamonds tipped me over the edge and I wondered why the commercials were slightly out of focus. This was, after all, supposed to be a focus group.
"How do you react to the man in that last commercial?", the girl with the clipboard asked me.
"Great bloke!", I said. "You know what? He's my besht friend in the whole world. Ashk him if he wantsh a drink."
An hour later, I staggered out into Piccadilly and nearly fell into the bus lane.
My boss asked me why I was late back from lunch.
"This girl took me into a basement up the road for some drinks. She made me watch these films on a television and then measured my reaction to them. It was fucking brilliant. Look Jimmy, I brought you a bottle of Double Diamond."
"Go to your desk, Lupin. And I suggest that in future you stick to Franco's Sandwich bar round the corner. Oh, and it's Mr Prendergast to you. Only Mrs Prendergast calls me Jimmy."