I’ve spent a couple of days in the capital this week, and this has meant spending several minutes waiting on tube station platforms. As a result, I have been exposed to a number of rather large, if somewhat curved and static, advertisements.
Our first case study involves an attempt to tempt me into purchasing Danish butter (and does beg the question of why we don’t see other dairy products from the Norfolk of the Baltic, for example, could you name a single Danish cheese?). This was surprisingly cheery for something hieing from Denmark, boasting as it did a giant representation of a decapitated, runny-yoked, boiled egg and what I took to be buttered soldiers. The whole was some 10 or 12 feet high, and at this scale the soldiers were more alarming than alluring – however, the ad was successful in engendering within me a desire for a boiled egg (a desire which is quite difficult to satisfy tens of metres below ground on the Central line).
My second example was a sales pitch for a small car. This was given the strap line, “Fun Unlimited” – which led me to wonder why the normal English word order for adjective and noun had been so recklessly abandoned. Is this sequence of words somehow more likely to make me purchase their vehicle than offering “Unlimited Fun”? As James Sherwood has noted to comic effect, the word order chosen is more normal in French, heraldry (from what I can recall of the Ladybird book of Heraldry, the ad could be described heraldically as Corsa Gules upon Field Or) or a few known exceptions like Mint Imperial or Light Fantastic. Curiously, other adjectivally limited nouns within the ad copy were delivered using the standard English word order – and so we see New Corsa, rather than Corsa New. I think someone needs to carry out some research into whether jumbling the words really does increase the effectiveness of a message. Perhaps Vauxhall should have taken things further and scrambled more words – or even presented the strap line in the form of a cryptic crossword clue (3,5,3,9)?
The final target for my heavy-handed sarcasm is an offering from a mobile phone network. I believe this was trying to suggest that if I bought “top-ups” from them I would be given free vouchers that could be spent in various High Street stores. However, the message was transmitted through a somewhat pastoral scene and the “seller” was a satyr in a cricket sweater. Even with my limited classical education, I can say that satyrs were not known for their batting, bowling or fielding (but despite this, are never recorded as playing for England) nor were they particularly associated with telephony or shopping. No, satyrs were associated with the pleasures of the flesh – and in particular wine drinking and the priapic arts. I am unsure how obsession with and pursuit of nymphs, permanent readiness for every physical pleasure or even the (perhaps) more innocent playing of primitive woodwind instruments would qualify them to promote PAYG mobile services. It is often said that “sex sells”, but this particular attempt does seem rather a stretch to me. I would hate to discourage the use of classical allusion in advertising – but I do feel that if we are to educate the public in classical myths using this medium, the figures used should be appropriate to the product in question, Hermes perhaps in this case.