Room 101 - ten things to hate about TV advertising


If you look to the left, you'll notice this is the one hundred and first column I've written for Creativepool. I must admit I let my century pass by unnoticed, which is rather typical of my lack of attention. But it does allow me the opportunity to pinch an idea from the BBC and consign ten aspects of TV advertising to a virtual dustbin with a yank of a handle and a sickening thud. Should you wish to disagree, I'd heartily encourage you to use the comments facility at the foot of this piece, rather than hunting me down like a frightened hound. Now, if it's all the same to you, I'll begin ...

1. Enjoyable songs re-sung by ethereal ladies with breathy voices

Please don't rush to point out that I've pitched this before. I have, but nothing has changed. I wish it was possible to pinpoint exactly when this began, but who knows? It's just one of those trends long past its sell-by date, staggering on because we're too lazy to change. From 'I Just Can't Get Enough' to 'Close To Me', it seems every TV clip for every brand must be accompanied by a husky waif warbling through a track I used to like. A shiny new cat for the first agency to pack this in.

2. Clients fronting their own campaigns

Like so many bad ad ideas, this originated in the USA. Watch a few minutes of TV in the States and you're bound to come across a bloke called Crazy Larry or something similar. He'll be outside his bed shop or car dealership banging on about his insanely low prices which must soar in a few short days (don't worry, they won't). While it may have some amusement value when holidaying, it's just toe-curling back at home. In my locality we have a chap called Andrew who has a conservatory outlet and an inability to speak clearly, you probably have the equivalent. It is our duty to our clients and their grandchildren, to hold them back from this excruciating folly at all costs.

3. Baby product ads directed at the baby

Hey, I'm no wet nurse (that would be bizarre and perverse) but I do know the howling poo machines we know as young infants don't watch TV ads. In fact, they have no idea what the TV is. In more fact, they don't really know what their own hand is. Because they're babies, you see. Quite why nappy brands and others insist on briefing the copywriter to do the whole script as if they are addressing the baby, I do not know. I suspect they think it's cute. It's not.

4. All online bingo advertising

Suddenly, every brand in the country has to have a cross-promoted bingo wing. Metro Bingo? Check. Tesco Bingo? Yup. Even Foxy Bingo (not a Murdoch enterprise, that's Sun Bingo). And why? Because it's a cash cow. These sites are programmed to retain a fixed percentage of the subscription money. Just because your old Nan goes up the Mecca for a game on a Thursday, doesn't mean these hubs are any less mercenary than poker sites. The dreadful ads (and they are all dreadful) are literally coaxing people into parting with cash in return for more or less nothing. It's like buying a Chris Moyles book.

5. Ads made to look like news or weather bulletins

Remember when advertisers in newspapers hit on the wheeze of producing ads that looked like articles? And the paper had to write a clunky 'advertisement' above them? Clients eventually grew out of that, but on it plods on on the telly. We're usually presented with a glamorous lady behind a desk with a sheaf of papers saying "This just in. Sofa prices are falling heavily across the land." Or some twonk in a suit with a microphone giving us a 'report' from a hellish flooring warehouse. Even a middle-aged gent before an archaic, magnetic map of the country, sticking smiley faces all over it. Well, they're fooling no-one. News programmes don't look that. Except on Channel Five and who watches the news of Channel Five? Exactly.

6. Serious subjects presented in an infantile way

Healthier diets, medical negligence, first aid techniques - all topics worthy of our consideration. Unfortunately, those who wish to engage us on these subjects don't credit us with sufficient intelligence to absorb the relevant information, unless it is presented by a wibbly cartoon character or talking animal. I fear this may spread. When the next election rolls round (2014, you say? Good grief) be prepared for the three major parties to compete for our support using a singing ferret, a soppy pillow and a laughing jam jar.

7. Airlines quoting one way fares

You may have lost your job, your house and your life savings, but you still want a summer holiday. In fact, more now than ever. And you probably don't want to come back. Well, you're in luck - because you may not be able to afford to. You see, when aeroplane2.com announce in those shouty, brash tones they favour, that you can go to some condom strewn beach in the sun for £20, it is without exception a one-way fare. I'm astonished this achieves anything. Jumping online in a rush of excitement only to discover the return leg of my holiday is going to set me back more than my spending money will merely ensure I block the airline from my browser using parental safety settings. And I imagine this isn't the desired outcome.

8. All train advertising

Much like the banks and their hilarious pretend radio stations and empty pledges, train operators have made the mistake of imagining a clip of Vic Reeves gobbling a fried breakfast as his superfast carriage zooms through bucolic rural Britain, will mask the utter misery of the actual experience. Aggressive customer 'service', interminable delays and fares higher than a return flight on aeroplane2.com, all erased by some CGI piffle? Not likely. Of course, insult is multiplied by injury when the strapline appears - along the lines of 'Get Up And Go'. If only, if only.

9. Ads with fleeting references to the financial disaster

"Everyone's watching the pennies at the moment aren't they?" "Right now, we could all do with a little boost." - you know what they're driving at, but it's the coyness and euphemism that is so irritating. Mostly because what follows is a plea for you to choose one measly discount over another. Or worse, borrow some cash at an interest rate that exceeds the laws of physics. The truth is, many people are deciding whether to eat or pay a bill, if advertisers are hoping to attract their disposable income they will be sorely disappointed. And regardless, giving veiled nods to the looming second recession is just embarrassing.

10. Poetry

In the olden days, when I embarked on my copywriting career, making your copy rhyme was a greater sin than chucking live kittens out of the third floor studio window. The temptation was beaten out of you with a Pantone marker on your first day. Well, here comes the new generation and - quite rightly - they want to break all the rules. So ads for cheese, dating services and frozen foods are all boasting mini-poems where there used to be a script. This would be almost acceptable if the flaming things scanned, actually rhymed and didn't appear to be written in a primary English class. But alas, alas ...

Here's to the next 101 columns. Thanks for staying with me this long.

Magnus Shaw - writer, blogger and broadcaster



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