Adwatch - No 93
Regular readers of these pieces may have noticed that I frequently receive a different message from commercials from the one the advertiser intended. I have no idea whether the fault lies with the advertisers or with myself and what may be an abnormal tendency to see ambiguity and sub-texts where none exist. I suppose it's arguable that if I were a typical viewer I wouldn't waste my time analysing these things but would just go out and buy the sodding products.
Anyway, here we go again.........
I glance up from my newspaper and see what appears to be yet another Brat Doc. A small boy is tearing round the house like a whirling dervish. Then we see him cutting a swathe through the suburban garden like a miniature Hurricane Katrina. Clearly an acute case of hyperactivity.
I wait for the film to cut to a telegenic psychologist watching all this on a monitor and drawing up a Behaviour Modification Programme that features House Rules, Boundaries and Reward Systems.
But wait. With a mighty crash the Brat Doc template shatters into tiny pieces.
The boy's mother is not tearfully gulping down Valium tablets and explaining how the supercharged sprog is destroying the family.
She's beaming with parental pride and saying that he never stops all day. Moreover, she is herself ensuring that he maintains the energy output of Windscale by shovelling copious quantities of Kellogg's New Tiger Power™ breakfast cereal down his throat. For Tiger Power™, according to Messrs Kelloggs, is 'wholegrain energy for non-stop kids' and will 'help mums win the breakfast battle'.
Now I may be missing something here but if the breakfast table is like a battlefield then taking the pre-pubescent tiger power down a few notches would seem to be a sensible objective. Stoking up the energy levels is a bit like handing out Stanley knives at a Glasgow pub brawl.
"Sorry to ring you at work, darling. But could you pop into the pharmacy and get another Ritalin prescription.
And for Christ's sake don't buy any more of that Tiger Power. The little bastard's just trashed the living room again."
Default response Number Two is my frequent inablity to comprehend what's going on in the minds of those people who designate themselves with an adjective - the Creatives.
Not to be confused with Creationists, although they too have a cavalier attitude to truth, logic and science.
Yesterday I had two disturbing encounters with a commercial for Persil Non-Bio. So disturbing that I lay in bed last night trying to figure out what it meant. I would have preferred to be getting to grips with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or Superstring Theory, either of which would have proved less taxing.
Before we get on to the heavy stuff, let's fast-forward to the end of the Persil commercial which has the strapline 'Dirt is good'.
But if you're trying to sell detergent then surely the only possible message is that dirt is bad? Not just bad in a wishy-washy 'doesn't look very nice' kind of way but an outward sign of moral failure.
But this is a mere quibble when we go back to the beginning of the storyboard.
Two boys aged about twelve climb a garden fence and get covered in dirt in the process. They have climbed the fence in order to look at the girl next door sunbathing.
The first caption says: 'This isn't dirt.'
The second caption says: 'It's the girl next door.'
So, we've got two concrete nouns here: 'dirt' and 'the girl'. They are not co-terminous or interchangeable. The girl is not smeared over the boys' chinos and the dirt is not sunbathing in the garden.
It's true that in the endless recyling of the matter that is trapped within the gravity of our planet, the atoms of the dirt and the girl may one day rub shoulders in some new and different meta-form. But in the time-frame of a 30-second vignette, the movements of atoms across the millennia need not detain us for long.
There's a device in literature called the 'transferred epithet'. It's common in the poetry of Dylan Thomas - the 'lilting house', the 'happy yard' in Fern Hill. But we don't usually bugger about with nouns unless we have a neurological disorder, like The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.
So in what sense, if any, is the dirt the girl next door?
Here are some possible interpretations of what Charlie Creative (or a Creative on Charlie) was trying to say:
'Every picture tells a story and so does every piece of dirt. So when the smiling Mums who live on Planet Commercial are loading the washing machine and see the stains on their little boys' clothing they drift off into a luminous reverie of maternal pride and know they are looking at the fleeting souvenirs of his adventures, fantasies and dreams.'
'There's nothing dirty about climbing a fence to indulge in a spot of voyeurism and ogle the girl next door in her swimsuit. Boys will be boys. At least you know he's not gay, although you'd be relaxed about that but he might get bullied and you wouldn't have grandchildren, and you'd be more worried if it was your husband perving over the girl next door, and anyway Persil Non Bio will soon have those chinos looking like new.'
Well yes, I have to concede that whilst 'It's not dirt......it's the girl next door' may be gibberish, it's a lot easier to fit into a 30 second commercial than either of the above.
And on the standard test of advertisers - 'recall' or memorability - Charlie Creative would now be feeling very pleased with himself. He'd expect me to be hurling bottles of Persil Non Bio into my basket faster than you could say reverse spin cycle. Sadly, life, like a Persil commercial, is not that simple.
For I have an unshakeable and irrational belief that only Ariel can shift those stubborn stains. Plus an equally irrational belief that Persil is little better than coloured water.
And if you ever convince me that 'dirt is good' I'll even forsake Ariel, take my chuddies down to the village stream and rely on the non-bio action of chalk spring water and a large pebble.