“It relies on me finding people who aren’t afraid to be honest
and not too worried about looking cool.”
This is what Dave said to me when asking if I’d like to gather together some of my favourite adverts from that distant yet golden time before I knew anyone had ‘favourite adverts’.
Well Dave, you got me.
Honest? Deeply uncool? Two of my top personality traits, seeing as we’re dealing in preferences here.
As someone who spent their formative years in a green jersey tracksuit (no branding, even less shape) and whose best friend was a hamster with stomach cancer, let’s just say I’m ticking some boxes.
My sister hated that tracksuit.
It used to personally offend her that I just wanted to wear my green tracksuit and I didn’t seem to care about all the other clothes I *could* be wearing. Brighter, tighter, shorter, newer, better.
I wasn’t an idiot, I knew other things I could shod my body in existed, but I liked my green tracksuit.
It wasn’t because it was a tracksuit of any utility – unless systematically glue-gunning glass beads to your bedroom carpet is a sport – and to be clear, I understood it was ugly. But I liked it.
That tracksuit made me feel like me, it rejected falsehoods and in doing so allowed me to fully revel in other ‘Very Me’ pursuits.
I transcended eating Mini Kievs in front of Garfield in that two-piece.
I read my Grandma’s Take A Break magazine (Paranormal Green Goo Paralysed My Cat!) and my library books about the beast of Bodmin Moor, intensely comfortable in it’s soft green mesh.
Whilst others thought I wore it because I didn’t know better, I wore it because I did. In short, liking shit you’re not supposed to like is powerful.
So here’s my power list:
Mobil – 24 – ‘Toasters’.
I’m not starting lightly, so strap in.
Like an Elvis Costello fever dream, this is an ad about a petrol loyalty scheme, loosely based on Dad Who Works(™), turning his long, long hours of driving and family absence into plastic gifts for his children because that is what love is.
Perhaps this transactional familial exchange appealed to my young mind as I wondered if this was the opposite of having a permanently absent father, but that’s why I’ve never been to therapy.
Because what you don’t know can’t hurt you.
But this isn’t about that, it’s about THE SONG.
And That Song is, unquestionably, up there with the songs I have sung most in my life. And it’s not a quiet song either, like the original Gene Pitney hit it bastardised, you’ve really got to belt it out in order to hit the note on ScunTHORPE.
But by god does it engulf this ad. The incongruous choreography? The kitchen sink of visual styles? The overly performative expressions? Doesn’t matter. You buy it all because that song is Driving Home For Christmas for every single goddamn day of the year.
Weirdly, some people seem never to have heard of it, The Toaster Song. But then I move in different circles these days post-tracksuit and this is an ad about petrol stations and coupons and Argos, and given I have a friend who up until recently had not even heard of Centre Parcs (“probably have just gone to Nice”), I’ll let you make what you will about the so called benefits of social mobility.
Power rank: Maximum. An actual power ballad.
Metz – ‘Judderman’.
Fast forward 3 years and we’re out on the town where your one-drink-in-each-pub selection was key – after all, not every boozer did Red Square or based it’s thriving bottom line solely on underage Smirnoff Ice purchases.
Yet despite the cloying choice of alcopops in the late nineties, for me there was one ‘pop to slosh ‘em all – Metz.
I cannot tell you what it tasted like.
What is a schnapps?
I don’t care.
I didn’t care.
Because I loved this ad.
Turns out creepy Nosferatu-esque German expressionism was exactly my jam mid-teens, I just didn’t know it til I saw it.
Which I suppose is exactly how good advertising should turn up and make you feel.
A mini horror story, crafted in a manner that was totally at odds with the glossy lad culture of its time, it felt strange and dangerous.
No alcohol ad has had the same effect on me since, meaning I haven’t ever felt as dangerous with a drink in my hand as I did at 15 – which most of my friends and all of my exes will tell you is incorrect – but Metz meant I too felt like a cool, mysterious creep in the woods, and I happily spent my cash every Friday night chasing that icy high.
Power rank: 8/10 finger-on-the-button Cold War levels.
Scotch VHS – ‘Never Fade’. (WCRS)
“You Can Watch Scotch Forever”
A VHS tape that lasts so long and so well you can still keep using it even when you are literally dead.
This is the sort of ‘big idea’ marketers today would laugh along with in the meeting but talk each other out of on the slow train back to Derby and ultimately discount via email as being ‘a bit dark for us actually that, Steve’, never letting it reach the execution stage where it clearly becomes anything but…
Who knew the afterlife could be so snappy!?
Of course, Skeleton was a returning character for Scotch in the 80s, but this is the ad that left an indelible print on my brain.
The hypnotic loop of rhythm, vocal and picture made me bop along in a way a charming fleshless corpse wouldn’t usually command.
That this might have had something to do with the reworked lyrics of The Stones’ ‘Never Fade Away’ is a less accepted theory in my family given the swift dismissal of ‘those soft Londoners’.
Power rank: 6.5/10 for the dead parrot’s kinetic energy alone.
T-Mobile – ‘Dance’. (Saatchi & Saatchi)
I looked this up expecting it to be about 20 years old – because Flash Mobs – turns out it’s only 12 years ago, which, frankly, wow. If only from a sartorial standpoint.
Anyway, I include it because this is just before I fell into advertising, during a long and illustrious period in my life where we didn’t own a telly. But I still knew about this ad. It somehow made its way into my eyeballs despite me not partaking in the nation’s favourite commercial vehicle, and I admired it for being the first of its kind to do that.
It’s worth noting that being caught up in a flash mob of professional dancers is my own personal hellscape, yet I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit big and a bit fun. And back then, that’s all I really needed an ad to be. Probably in truth that’s all anyone ever needs an ad to be (see also: Sony Balls/Paint) and maybe we’re all overthinking this entire business, but I for one am prepared to continue in this lucrative charade if you are.
Power rank: 3/10 (no Michael Flatley).
Dime Bar – ‘Armadillos’. (Y&R)
They’re now called Daim bars and are only available as shrunken, individually-wrapped versions of their former full-size, anglicised selves.
But despite the Scandi make-over, let’s remember that Dime Bars were once sold to the masses by a Harry Enfield character shouting about a shelled animal.
Again, a returning character, but again, my pick of the bunch.
As a rule I don’t love catchphrases nor catchphrase adverts, I find them to be on the wrong side of patronising your audience.
But then, what do I know? Because they bloody work, don’t they?
What I do know is that kids used to shout ‘I like Armadillos!’ all the time at school, like the parroting idiots most children are.
Of course now I see it for what it is, which is a very cleverly constructed piece of subversive product description snuck inside a loved and versatile comedy vehicle of its time. So I can’t help wondering if the final line, “You’re a bit thick really, aren’t you?” may have been purposely levelled at my immature temporal lobe that was straight down the shops for a Dime.
Power rank: 6/10 I’m not sure Armadillos are supposed to move that fast.
Guinness – ‘noitulovE’. (AMV/BBDO)
This sticks with me as the first time I thought “fucking hell, that’s an advert?”
It just looked so expensive, so BIG.
This huge, huge subject of evolution, whittled down to it’s (various, gloriously non-scientifically accurate) bones.
I think it’s the first time I understood that someone had had this idea and then someone had said yes and then someone had made it, which I know sounds ridiculous, but as someone who never studied advertising or really understood that this world existed, I just thought that was brilliant.
I wonder if this ad would get made now?
There’s (thankfully) no purpose, no grand plan. It’s almost too big, there’s a fucking T-Rex in it mate. But in the end, it’s just a reptile who reckons there might be something better out there for him once he’s grown into things a bit… much like me and my tracksuit.
Power rank: 9/10 There is no better song than Rhythm of Life. Drink two glasses of wine, turn it up, and tell me I’m wrong.
Thanks Dave – this was fun.