Saturday, January 12, 2008

ADWATCH - No 1 of a new series

For the first Adwatch since my return, what better than a disgraceful assault on a commercial that isn't actually 'commercial' but exists to promote the most noble and altruistic of causes?
I refer to the commercial for the National Blood Service.
You know the one: a succession of celebrities introduce us to 'ordinary people' who, by giving blood, saved theirs or a loved one's life.
"This is Trevor. He saved my life when I fell over and cut my head open as I staggered out of the Pink Flamingo, completely rat-arsed."
"This is Julie. Without her, my brother would be dead after my sister-in-law tried to cut his bollocks off with a kitchen knife."
Well OK, the stories aren't as interesting as that and would be rejected in a script for Casualty.
So what's the problem?

Firstly, it's based on the conceit that you can actually identify the particular donor that saves a particular life. No, no, let me finish.
Most of us know this is just a fictitious device to dramatise the value of giving blood.
But a small proportion of the population are exceedingly stupid. They think soap operas are real. They think 50% of the British population is black. They think the sun goes round the earth, that Africa is in Europe and that poor Dirk Bogarde never did meet the right girl.
And most advertising is designed to exploit gullibility, if not stupidity, and that includes exploiting the sub-conscious credulousness of the intelligent.
That's why, before controls were more rigorous than today, a chocolate bar called Milky Way was advertised as "the sweet you can eat between meals without spoiling your appetite" and Craven A cigarettes were advertised as being good for your throat.
So is it responsible to be peddling the notion that, if you donate blood, some washed-up soap actor or celebrity chef may turn up at your workplace to thank you personally for saving their life?
Believe me, there are people who will think this is how it works.

Misunderstanding how blood transfusion works has been fertile ground for comedies over the years. Hancock's The Blood Donor is too well known to need describing here.
There was also an episode of Till Death Us Do Part where Alf Garnett was shocked to see a black man at the blood donor clinic and even more shocked to be told that his blood might be given to a white person. Sadly, some of the television audience would have shared his horror.

Secondly, if you are going to use celebrities in this commercial and assuming that some people see them as role models, wouldn't it be more sensible to show the celebs themselves donating blood? In this commercial, it's a one-way traffic. The 'ordinary people' are donating blood that is used to save the lives of the rich and famous and their families and friends. It's a kind of 'trickle-up' effect.
Not that the reverse scenario would be without its problems. Be honest. Would you want to be given Amy Winehouse's blood? Or Pete Doherty's?

Finally, as I've noted before, the use of celebrities in commercials (unless for a niche product) can be counter-productive.
Take Gordon Ramsay, who features in these ads with a tale of his spleen being ruptured rather than vented.
My father, himself a former chef, has a hatred of Ramsay so intense that if Ramsay were lying on the ground with a ruptured spleen, not only would my father not donate blood that had the remotest chance of being given to Ramsay but there would be a strong likelihood that it was my father who had ruptured Ramsay's spleen in the first place.
If a celebrity asked "If you prick us, do we not bleed?", you can be sure a proportion of the public would reply "You are a prick. Bleed to death, you bastard."

None of which should deter anyone from donating blood. The website ( even boasts a new 'Blood Donor Online' service.
God knows which USB port you use for that. And you'd have to make your own cup of tea. But it gives a whole new meaning to their slogan: "Do something amazing today."


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