Cars on screen

As a somewhat regular filmgoer, I often fall prey to the motor industry’s marketing messages.  Yes, we the cinema going public are apparently gagging for a new car, strong liquor and something to treat our terrible acne (mostly recently interminably promoted by a CGI goose) – which does feel less than ideal as a combination.  On the whole, the ad reel is entirely independent of the cinema or film – but I did recently discover a couple of exceptions.

  • Before the Shaun the Sheep movie (U), the ad reel was really very different, nothing to dull the pain of existence or excise my spots, but full of much brighter colours and mysterious products which I presume were aimed at much younger viewers (and left me begging for strong liquor).
  • In Scotland, an ad for the NatWest morphs into one for the Royal Bank of Scotland, losing the dulcet voice-over tones of Rebecca Front to be replaced by a someone with a Scottish accent and changing the corporate logo in the branch at the end (but nothing else).

But, I should return to the plot (such as it is) and the attempts by car makers to flog their wares.  What I have come to realise in these visual offerings is that the vehicles always have UK licence plates, but are clearly not in the UK (and frequently admit that the model shown does not even exist in the UK).  Why is it so important to maintain this flimsiest of fictions?   Would the actors’ skin tones be darkened for sunnier markets as well – or have they been lightened for cloudy Britain?

More importantly, the cars are always being driven either on entirely deserted streets or in some barren wilderness (the latter is normally true if the vehicle is a 4×4).  Clearly, we are being sold some entirely spurious idea of freedom which the automobile is supposed to deliver – and I suppose if we go back far enough in time, once did.  However, to me it looks as though motor manufacturers are in complete denial about the existence of traffic or are hoping their clients will only wish to use their cars after the recent detonation of a neutron bomb (or perhaps in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse).  This gives all the ads a somewhat dystopian feel which seems at odds with the desire to shift product.

A few recent ads, show a “classic” car from a company’s product line and then show it driving near to its latest incarnation.  Without exception (for me at least) these make the older car look much the more attractive – but that may be down to my age.  However, the message seems to be: look how ugly our new car is, why not try and find a decent second-hand example from when our cars weren’t designed be a committee of accountants?

I think this demonstrates why (a) I am a poor target for advertising (I insist on taking home the wrong message) and (b) should never be hired to work in marketing – or perhaps I am the small boy pointing out the emperor’s nudity in this scenario?  The ads rarely look cheap (though clearly are recycled across multiple markets) so I assume someone has checked whether they actually do any good?  Still, I probably shouldn’t complain as they must be subsidising my cinema-going habit – though I must try and curb the desire to laugh (or at least splutter) at some of the more egregious examples.

In a related topic, I have noticed the frequency with which characters on both film and TV will have a conversation whilst in a moving vehicle.  The only problem with this idea is the apparent difficulty of doing this in real life on both safety and continuity grounds (I would guess) means that the world outside the vehicle is usually faked.  My issue is that it tends to be faked really badly – even on otherwise high-budget productions.  It is usually a little better at night, but would still rarely fool anyone who has ever been in a vehicle while in possession of functioning eyes.  Entire series are made leaning heavily on (often quite convincing) CGI, but somehow no-one can create a convincing backdrop for a moving car.  Given this clear difficulty, surely it would make sense to hold fewer (or no) conversations in moving cars? It is not as though (in the real world) people only talk in cars, there are lots of alternatives!  Is the “moving” of the vehicle supposed to distract us from some slightly dull (if plot critical) exposition?  Or is it just down to a failure of the teaching in film school?  Is avoiding this issue part of the allure of period drama?


Be careful what you say…

Yesterday, I wrote a post about my trip to Poland and describing how much fun my first faltering steps with the Polish language were.  Make no mistake, if you want someone to say “with rum” in Polish then I am your man – but otherwise, the language remains very much an undiscovered country to me.

It would seem that Twitter is reading this blog and taking some of its text to heart.  From this morning, they have started adding adverts into my timeline which are written only in Polish.  Now, I will admit this is geographically much more relevant than their usual offerings, which apply (at best) to those living on the other side of the Atlantic – so a good 2000 miles better targeted.  Congratulations Twitter!  However, none of these ads has yet used any of the limited vocabulary I acquired in Krakow – so they remain a complete mystery.  So, Twitter is still totally failing with even the most basic requirements of an advertisement – in this case, the vaguest hint of reader comprehension (or is this a cunning new take on subliminal advertising?).  Still, according to Nicholas Parsons many a foreigner has learned English from Just a Minute, so perhaps I could learn Polish from mis-directed advertising?

I wonder if I claim to be fluent in Euskara, I will start receiving ads aimed at the Euskal Herria?  Or maybe I should stick closer to home (and my roots) and claim to be fluent in Welsh?  I did watch the excellent 2014 BBC Wales production of Under Milk Wood yesterday and so find myself very tempted by the language of my fathers (look you).  So much so that I have been proof-reading this post in a cod Welsh accent (please feel to try this yourself, it’s a lot of fun!) – so in deference to my forebears, I shall stop now.

Small claims: caught

Before the days of regulation, advertisers could make truly incredible claims about their products.   Medicines were claimed to cure a huge range of ills, and given that many contained what are now Class A drugs, even if they didn’t effect a cure I suppose they might well have acted as a distraction.  Talking of Class A drugs, as a youth with an upset stomach, I was offered kaolin and morphine – which is basically clay and heroin (so akin to shooting up in a Cornish mine) – which now strikes me as rather odd (not to say sinister).

Still, in these more enlightened times advertisers have to be somewhat more truthful in their statements.  Though, thinking back to medicine and comparing the outrageous claims made by Messer Lemsip and Beecham about their palliatives and their actual effect on the cold (or ‘flu) ridden human body, I do wonder just how far we really have come…

However, today I shall focus on some very modest claims indeed made by current advertisers.  I have seen adverts for hair dye which claim it will cover “up to 100% of grey hair” and for a toothbrush that removes “up to 100% of plaque”.  I would like to point out to these folk that a bar of milk chocolate, a small pack of wood screws, the Companies Act 2006 and a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake could all make exactly the same claim as to their efficacy on one’s coiffeur or dentition.  Sadly “up to 100%” encompasses 0% – and so is saying nothing at all (though, in the words of at least one song, this is when one says it best).

In a slightly related item, I am a sometime consumer of protein powder – well, my body having been torn apart in the pursuit of gymnastic glory needs some raw material to rebuild itself (better… faster… stronger – and all for far less than $6,000,000) and it is mostly made of protein.  Being me, this is not just any old protein – nor, less you are hearing the music of Sailor (Glass of Champagne) in your head, does it come from M&S.  This protein requires no less than seven adjectives to describe it – none of them to big it up, mind, just to describe it.  I fear this may have worn them out, as when it comes to “suggested use” they merely say “one or more scoops” (so, at least I know never to use less than one – though I’m not sure what terribly consequence might ensue if I did) and defines a range of liquids to use as “mixers” but ends the list with “or your favourite beverage”.  I have yet to try 437 scoops with a bottle of gin – but have been sorely tempted!  (For the avoidance of doubt, gin is not my favourite beverage – this is merely an imposture for supposedly comic effect).  The “suggested use” is not a claim per se, but very much a statement which leaves rather too much open to be of much utility – I suppose they have come down against mixing my scoop(s) with a gas, solid or plasma and have limited my choice of liquids to one which could be considered a beverage but frankly they could have saved the ink with no loss to the user.

I think it is time to campaign under the slogan, “if you have nothing to say, then say nothing”.  Think of the savings!  A risky choice for me, obviously, given the whole blog thing – but as you will have realised by now, I am the exception to every rule.

Targetted advertising

Our privacy is under threat as never before – or so we are told – either by governments spending our money to spy on us or by mega-corporations trying to flog us stuff we neither need nor want.  I think I would find this much more terrifying if either group had shown themselves to be even remotely competent in using the information they have managed to inveigle (or just plain steal) from us.

Governments seem incapable of delivering any IT system larger than a small Excel spreadsheet without the cost over-running by multiple billions and the system arriving so late that being merely obsolete is a pipe-dream.   As a result, I shall focus my attention on the mega-corporations which our governments see as a universal aunt to solve all societies ills and to which stock markets attach quite extraordinary values.

I am a member(?) of Facebook and occasionally post my thoughts upon its willing platform – mostly whilst on long train journeys (any TV execs reading: I could be the next Michael Portillo – though I may struggle to seem quite that smug).  In return for this “free” service, Facebook delivers to my incredulous eyes a series of adverts which it has chosen specially for me.  It would seem that I am in need of a high-value divorce, a bevy of single girls (in my area!) and a discrete catheter.  I don’t recall ever mentioning problems with the female sex – either an excess or a lack – or any infirmity related to my bladder.

Twitter is no better: it too offers me soi-disant “promoted tweets” as compensation for offering me the ability to infrequently post poor quality jokes.  Most of these, along with many of the offerings from Facebook, could only be of interest to a reader resident in the US – and I have made no secret of the fact that I am not a US resident to both social networks (it is one of the few pieces of “personal” information I have vouchsafed to them).

If this is really the best they can do, I must wonder at (a) the due diligence performed by those advertising using their services and (b) their current stock valuations.  I fear the leader of the empire may be in state of some undress.

I don’t see a lot of advertising on the television, as I tend to record programmes on commercial channels and then fast forward through the ads.  This both spares me the generally tedious efforts of the advertising industry and allows me to watch two hours of television in around 90 minutes – so much more time efficient!  However, when at the cinema, I am a captive audience and see most of my moving ads (as opposed to the more static bill-board) there.  Theatre and classical music remain largely ad-free (if you ignore the programme).  This seems to be missing a trick as you have actors and/or musicians available who could usefully indulge in a bit of selling while the audience hobble to their seats.

I rather miss Pearl and Dean, and do wonder if they are still together – or just another one of this country’s rising divorce statistics.  Once, in the ABC in East Grinstead in the mid 80s, I was the sole audience member for a film entitled Turk 182.  Prior to the film beginning, we had the usual Pearl and Dean ad reel – but the film had been fed into the projector the wrong way round and it ran backwards.  The famous P&D theme sounds pretty much the same in reverse – these is no hidden demonic message (in case any readers had been worrying).

Nowadays, most of my cinema time is spent at a Picturehouse and so I have made study of the ads which are felt appropriate for an art house cinema audience.    We would seem to be in the market for broadband, moderately to very expensive cars and vodka – there is always an ad for vodka (drinking and driving seems to be positively encouraged at the flicks).  We are also subjected to an ad by a firm called Prime Location which I find actively offensive and which has convinced me never to use their services: I presume it is paid for by a consortium of other estate agents to wreck their business.  The catalogue of ads seems entirely independent of the choice of film – but my own anecdotal evidence would suggest that the choice of film does affect the audience (and, indeed, the film trailers shown).

Frankly, advertising seems only to be targetted at me in the sense that any projectile cast into the air at less than 11.2 km/s is being targetted at “the ground”.  Both will encounter their target, but not due to any virtue imparted by their method of delivery.  There is an old saying that those that can do, and those that can’t teach.  I have heard this extended to administration if teaching is too tricky – one can only imagine that marketing is all-too-often a very long way down this chain of possible careers.


The folk at Google are changing their Privacy Policies and seemed keen that I read some marketing guff they had prepared to make these changes seem to be both reasonable and for my benefit (despite neither being the likely reality).  Within the Overview they made mention of their Ads Preferences Manager, of which I had been previously unaware, so I decided to check it out.

It would seem that my preferences for advertisements delivered via Google products are derived from my on-line behaviour.  Many of these are at least plausibly linked to reality, and they have correctly deduced that I am a man.  However, rather distressingly, Google has decided that my age is 65+.  65+!  Yes, to Google I am already a pensioner.

I haven’t noticed a lot of ads for walk-in baths or funeral insurance (though, on the plus side, no salesman has called) being delivered to my browser.  However, perhaps I just missed them as I tend to ignore advertisements wherever possible (or maybe I’m becoming forgetful given my advanced on-line age).

I eagerly await my free bus pass!

Oh, Roger!

I am well known as a tennis pundit – well, I am to those lucky listeners to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire one afternoon 3 or 4 years ago who heard me correctly predict the results of both Wimbledon Singles Finals.  Sadly, I didn’t have sufficient confidence in my punditry to back it financially, so I’m still “working” for “the man”.  It is in my role as a tennis expert that I have noticed, with the exception of the recent ATP Masters, Roger Federer seems to have become somewhat estranged from his winning ways of late.  Younger, more poorly dressed whipper-snappers have kept him from winning tournaments – or even reaching the finals.

Given the fairly generous prize money paid out for winning major tennis tournaments, and his extraordinarily successful career, I had assumed that Mr F would not be short of a bob or two.  Certainly, I am always mystified by those who go on to earn their second (or, indeed, nth million for any n>1) – as I’d be quite happy to stop and take life easy after (or, if I’m being honest, probably well before) making my first million (be it in GBP, USD or EUR).  However, recent events suggest that Roger may be on his uppers.

Over the weekend, I happened to see some sort of advertisement broadcast by one of our many commercial television providers (I never hear these presentations, well not while I am within easy reach of the Mute button).  This starred the Swiss tennis ace, who seemed to be leaving on a jet plane to destination unknown.  The little vignette focused on the scanning of his hand luggage prior to moving on to the departure gate.  His hand luggage was a rather large sports bag (rather larger than I would try and sneak through as hand luggage) and the X-ray scan results showed it to be puzzlingly packed with small spheres.  On visual inspection, his only item of hand luggage was discovered to be packed with small spherical chocolates from one of Switzerland’s larger commercial chocolatiers.

Now, I will admit that my hand luggage is usually partly filled with food – in case I become peckish mid-flight – but I would normally have a greater variety of healthier options and would also have at least a book and MP3 player to keep myself amused during my confinement.  Perhaps, Mr F was expecting a very serious case of the munchies?  Though frankly, I think he has gone beyond the munchies and moved into the territory of serious addiction – and were he to consume the lot, he would not be moving around the court with his customary grace in future.  No, I am forced to assume that he has taken to chocolate smuggling to make ends meet.  Indeed, he used some of his contraband to “bribe” the two female customs officials to allow him to proceed.

Have other tennis stars of yesteryear also been forced to turn to a life of crime?  Certainly, no others have been foolish enough to be filmed “in the act” to my knowledge.  Will Andy Murray be caught smuggling haggis to the USA (where it is banned) in the future?  Aren’t we failing as a society if our über-rich tennis players are reduced to the role of food mules to keep the wolf from the door?  Some sort of appeal or bail-out is surely in order?  We found the money to keep our bankers in champagne and Porsches (not at the same time, this blog does not encourage drink-driving), surely we can do the same for tennis players?  After all, they’ve provided a lot more entertainment and pleasure.

Talking of financial rescues, I wondered if the French, Belgian (subject to its availability) or UK governments would help Stena Line if it found itself in trouble.  The idea of bailing out the ferries is rather pleasing.

Hair Today

Though after a trim, a little less than yesterday – but hopefully not gone tomorrow (though that would save me quite a lot of money in the long-term).

Yesterday, I noticed an advert for a product which suggested that we should learn to love our “dry, unpredictable hair” – I think probably with this product’s assistance.  I believe it wished to claim for itself the ability to fix either my hair’s dryness or its lack of predictability or both.  I’m no expert on haircare – as anyone who has sighted my barnet could testify – but I have always found that water can resolve the dryness issue, at least for a while.  So, I have decided to focus on the second implied claim.

Simple use of an internet search engine suggests that a typical head has more than 100,000 hairs.  Even with the significant computing power many of us carry around in this modern age, I think that predicting the behaviour of so many hairs is going to be a non-trivial exercise.  Just identifying the initial conditions is going to be a serious undertaking and should you go outside, and be exposed to chaotic weather conditions, then I fear any hope of an accurate prediction is no more than a pipe dream.   So far as I can see (rather further with the aid of my specs), the only folk who can predict their hair with any degree of confidence are the totally bald.  Perhaps I saw an ad for a very powerful depilatory?   Certainly, if you remove your hair and keep it in an air-tight box which is otherwise full of water, then its days of dryness and unpredictability would be well-and-truly over.

Hair products have many strange descriptions: mud, putty and glue to name but three substances you might think twice before applying to your locks (or would, before the marketing boffins took them in hand).  However, today I saw a product ‘description’ that took the biscuit, viz express blow-out creme.  Now, I like my grub as much as the next man and have been known to enjoy a blow-out from time-to-time, though prefer to take my time (an express meal is a sadly diminished experience).  I wasn’t sure if the creme was designed to be used after a hastily consumed banquet or in some way acts as a substitute for one.  However, since it was applied to my own coiffure this morning, I can discount the latter option – so I assume my hairdresser felt I was looking a little dyspeptic this morning and took pity on me.  I eagerly await the haircare industry’s answer to the hangover!

Unanswered Ad Questions: Two

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.

Unanswered Ad Questions: One

As I cycle about my business, I often pass (and am in turn passed by) buses – sometimes as many as 5 times by the same bus as I trundle along the Hills Road.  For some reason, today I found that a couple of the advertisements, that adorn the sides of these monarchs of the road, raised questions that they failed to answer.

One was drawing our attention to a film named “Paul” – I presume a biopic about the French boulanger whose outlets now garnish some of our larger rail termini.  The main “pull” for this flick is the fact that it shared producers with the earlier comic masterwork “Hot Fuzz”.  Now, I am no Barry Norman as we have previously established, but I’m not sure why a shared production team would encourage me to haul myself to a cinema. I would certainly be willing to take a view on the script and acting of a previous movie, I might at a push admire the direction and editing and I could possibly even say something cogent about costume or props.  However, in my limited understanding of the movie business I thought that producer was basically a management role – and from seeing a film I have little idea how well managed it was as a project.  Was SSADM or PRINCE followed?  Did it come in on time and budget?  Equally, even if “Paul” was produced by a team with a history of using established project management systems and delivering to time and budget, I’m not sure that this acts as any sort of recommendation to me as fan of bread-maker themed cinema (though, if I were financing the movie I might well be reassured).  Surely, they could just have successfully used a strap-line like, “Catered by the same team that fed Pride and Prejudice” for all the clues that it would give as to the film’s desirability as a night out.

The other advertisement drew attention to a video game (I think it may have been what is known as a first person shooter – probably set in some sort of dystopian future as that is de rigeur for the genre, though I will admit such a game would be a little out of place in a utopian one) and the draw here was a summary of a review.  The review précis came in two parts – a numeric score and a compound adjective.  The score was a creditable 9 out of 10 which equated to the adjective “mind-blowing”.  This left me wondering what adjective would have been used had it scored the full 10 – how could blowing of the mind be bettered?  Or would we be looking to blow something better than a mere mind?  (It might help if I knew whether the reviewer was a dualist or not – dualism is very much a minority view among neuroscientists, but I have no idea how pervasive it is in the video game reviewing community).  Perhaps a standard scale could be published so that we know what adjective should be married to each score, otherwise confusion will surely reign.

Or is it just that I’m over-thinking these things?

Coke vs Pepsi

Other brown, fizzy and overly sweet beverages are available, but these two do bestride the sector like colossi.  I believe that research has demonstrated that much of their success is down to brand (and little to do with the flavour of either – though in the past, when Class A drugs were a key ingredient, this may have been less true) and this would explain their heavy use of advertising.

I generally try and eschew the dubious charms of commercial television – and in particular the commercial segments thereof – but am still aware of some of their marketing efforts.

For this thesis I will limit myself to the two companies zero calorie (or, for those of us using the SI system, zero Joule) offerings.  In these products, the large volume of sugar in the traditional product is substituted with some combination of artificial sweeteners  thus removing any hint of nutritional value at a stroke.  The advertising for these two (superficially very similar) products is markedly different – aimed at two totally different segments of the carbonated beverage drinking public.

Diet Coke seems to be marketed at female office workers d’un certain age, consumption of the product being associated with the ladies casting their lecherous gaze over a (I assume) ruggedly handsome manual labourer.  This labourer should be partially dis-robed or wet (or preferably both) and should be the only person with a Y chromosome within the office environment.  This does seem to presuppose a level of gender segregation in the American office environment of which I was otherwise unaware.  Women outside the office – be they housewife or high court judge – and men presumably are not expected to drink Diet Coke (or perhaps drink so much that marketing to them is a waste of time and money).

Pespi Max, on the other hand, seems to be targetting its product exclusively at young men.  It used to utilise extreme sports, but has now moved in an interesting new direction.  Based on their current ad campaign, the Pepsi Max drinker would seem to be unemployable (though is able to gain an interview) and unable to gain any degree of physical contact with the fairer sex.  Luckily, he has two friends and between them they have some facility with the construction of elaborate scams to achieve their goals.  I would suggest that our “hero” was perhaps lucky that having faked an imminent asteroid collision, the only person not to flee the bar in which this con was perpetrated was the attractive young woman whom had taken his fancy (it could so easily have been the local drunk) – but I don’t think this weakens the thrust of my argument.  Pepsi Max is clearly aimed at young, socially inept and dishonest men – I presume this must be a large enough market to make national TV advertising viable.

Why do such apparently similar products have such divergent audiences – and thus by extension consumers?  Is this evidence of some sort of cartel whereby the players have carved up the market between them?  Is it time to bring out a brown, sweet (but energy free), fizzy drink for the woman who does not work in an office and who is attracted to thin, dry, intelligent men in glasses?  I should perhaps declare an interest here…