Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Urge To Kill Rising: ...and Fading at the Cinema

This weekend I went to see "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" with Mrs. Kludge, my mother, and my sister's family. I thought it was pretty good, although what's with the current trend of Helena Bonham-Carter only appearing in voice form?

Inevitably, there were adverts. There are now five sets of adverts you'll see at any cinema if you turn up early enough.

First, you'll see the static adverts that the cinema displays while people are coming in and sitting down - you know, the "5 minutes from this theatre" style of advert - although these ads seem to be more for technical colleges than Indian restaurants nowadays.

Next we have the advert for the cinema itself. In some way, these adverts are the most enraging - I don't know about you, but I don't need an advert to get to come to a cinema I'm already sitting in. Nothing that I want to do that can be achieved by simply sitting on my arse needs advertising. I don't see adverts for air, for instance, and no girl needs lipstick when you are actually in the process of kissing her. In fact, lipstick on someone you've decided to kiss is often a hindrance. In-cinema adverts are like that - they entice you into doing something you're already doing and, at the same time, hinder you from doing it.

Next: Adverts! Proper adverts! You used to get adverts in cinemas that you'd never see anywhere else. Now they're largely TV adverts.

Next: Trailers! The less said, the better.

Finally: These trailers sponsored by Orange. Before Orange, Barclays Bank was one of the companies responsible for sponsoring the trailers - in fact, the first I can remember doing so. Now, is it just me, or does it seem strange to anyone else that they need to sponsor trailers - which are adverts.

You don't seem to get this anywhere else. You don't watch through a car ad on telly, and at the end it says "This Peugeot propaganda brought to you by Andrex". If the trailers aren't paying their own way, why the hell are they being shown at all?

The fact that adverts have to be sponsored themselves pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with the cinema theatre industry. We're paying more to watch a film than ever before, we're paying ridiculous prices for a box of popcorn, and still films have to be slathered in five layers of adverts before the cinema is happy with the profit. I've got to think that there's something wrong with this.

...Aaaany-how - among the proper adverts, there was a car advert that I'd like to recommend to people advertising cars - although I'd recommend that they copy only one half of the advert. It starts with a black and white film of the car driving through what is probably Scottish countryside, complete with a pro - the usual pretentious car advert. Then, with the visual equivalent of a record scratch, coloured blobs come up on screen, telling us to "come off it". The ad changes to colour, and a funky piece of music plays while a cutaway shows us the seats flipping up and down into the various configurations.

Do you know what? I'm kind of sold. I mean, I wouldn't buy a people-carrier, but the second half of this advert was good. It was eye-catching, it wasn't annoying, and it demonstrated the point they were selling the car on very well. It certainly did look like a pretty versatile little vehicle. It's just a shame that the beginning of the advert was so bad. I can get behind parodies ("A Bit of Fry and Laurie" parodied this kind of pretentiousness excellent in some of their opening sequences), but a parody must have some element of humour in it - it must, in fact, actually be a parody. It's not simply enough to do something that someone else did and then say "come off it!" at the end, as if that made you clever. Some copywriters can do funny, and some can't. That's OK. But those that can't do funny really need to know about it*. The person who designed this advert couldn't do funny - but that's not important, because it looks as though they could do good.

(*Of course, this isn't just a problem for advertisers - on which, more in my next article).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Urge To Kill Rising: Ecomagination

At GE, we've discovered an inexhaustible resource. A resource that we believe could help solve the problems of an energy hungry world. It's called imagination, or rather ecomagination.

I don't know, it seems to me that GE's marketing block have already pretty much exhausted their imaginations - sorry, their ecomaginations - if this is the best they can come up with. What makes this particularly odd is that it's in The Economist. I'm not entirely sure who it is that GE are advertising to. If I can just play with my Venn diagrams for a bit here, the demographic appears to be the union of the following sets:

  • Those who read The Economist
  • Those who care about the environment
  • Those unable to distinguish made-up words from genuine feeling and innovation
I'm fairly sure that that limits the potential audience somewhat.

Urge To Kill Rising: Lynx

I have, for many years, used Lynx deodorant. Today, as my current aerosol ran out, I remembered that I made myself a promise a few weeks ago - a promise to never ever buy anything from Lynx ever again.

This might actually require no action on my part. I'm a thirty-something man, and like many thirty-something men it is difficult for people outside my immediate family to work out what I might possibly want as a birthday present. So I end up with toiletries, which for men means gift-packs of shower-gel and deodorant. Given their position as brand-leaders in Britain, I am pretty much guaranteed to get given at least one more can of Lynx deodorant before I die.

...unless I'm quick about it.

The reason is adverts. Now, I'll happily admit that there are a handful of adverts around at any given time that are actually bearable in some way - either they're actually funny, or actually clever, or (rarely) actually informative. But by and large, I hate adverts. I hate the fact that they're everywhere. I hate the horrible technological tricks that make them more intrusive. I hate the - well, basically, we all know what there is to hate about adverts, and I guarantee that I hate them for pretty much all the usual reasons.

But there are some adverts that manage to piss me off in their own unique way. And, over the years, I've spotted a trend in the adverts for Lynx deodorants that has got it onto my list. Now, I don't think you'll be too surprised to hear that Lynx advertise their deodorant for men by implying that it may make you more attractive to women. After all, that's pretty much the only way to advertise any toiletries to men. Of course, I understand that the converse is true of women's toiletries, but at least they have a few tricks up their sleeves - wax your legs so that silk scarves don't get caught on them, use fancy deodorants so that no white stains form on your armpits, that sort of thing. We all know that underneath it's basically "mascara on = catch a man", but they're putting a little bit of blusher on the concept, so to speak.

Men's toiletries have no such pretensions. If you sell razors, your adverts must feature a half-naked woman running her hand over a man's chin while smiling. If you sell hair gel, your adverts must feature a half-naked woman running her hand through a man's hair while smiling. Presumably the makers of pubic lice treatments will one day advertise with a half-naked woman rummaging around in some guy's boxers while smiling.

This is all good news if you're an unambitious copywriter. When you win the contract for gillette razors, you can just slam out the same old crap, put a post-it note on it that says: "Director should use monochrome filters", and turn in for the night. The advertising executives responsible for the Lynx campaigns through the years, however, have had a different approach, one which I will here refer to as The Ratchet.

The Ratchet in Lynx adverts relies on a simplistic view of competitiveness which is more commonly recognised in the military mind:

  • If Zog has a stick, Agrag must have a stick with a stone in it.
  • If Spain has a 36-cannon warship, Britain must have a 42-cannon warship.
  • If Russia has enough missiles to kill everyone on Earth twice over, America must have enough missiles to kill everything on Earth three times over.
  • If other writers give three examples, I must give four examples.
...and as soon as sticks with stones, 42-cannon warships, 500-gigatonne bombs, and the rule of four come to be commonplace, people start thinking that they can't compete without sticks with two stones, 48-cannon warships, 500-teratonne bombs, and the rule of fives (or, for those commentators of a more pugilistic bent, the bunch of fives).

Now you might be able to work out that Lynx adverts can compete with "half-naked woman running her hand through a man's armpit hair while smiling" in one pretty simple way. That's right: two half-naked women running their hands through a man's armpit hair while smiling. And do you know? That's exactly where the adverts started to go.

Lynx can't be blamed for kicking this whole thing off, I should point out here. For many years cinemas featured an advert for an electric shaver with a reservoir of - I don't know, aftershave gel, or shave gel, or something. Basically, the advert was pretty dodgy all round:

A gentleman (it was kind of edwardian styled) is being shaved by his maid, while another woman watches them through the keyhole - on her knees, legs spread wide. The maid holds the electric shaver, and squeezes it, producing a little bead of this gel-stuff, which looks like a pearl of pre-cum. When she's shaved the guy, she leans down as if to kiss him and the other girl bursts in.

For the life of me I have no idea which brand of shaver this was advertising, but I think we can all agree that an advert which seems to hint at catfights, female masturbation, and getting a handjob is raising the bar somewhat in the arena of male products.

So Lynx went to two half-naked women. But that wasn't enough - you can't just equal your competition, you have to beat them.

So Lynx upped the stakes and went to three. No-one else seemed to be following them, but - well, sometimes you just get on a roll, and momentum carries you on from there. However, there's only so far you can go with this idea. Lynx might get you four women, but, someone must have thought, is there some other way we can explore the Lynx-Rampant Heterosexuality linkage that we've got going here?

Yes, yes there is. Lynx deodorant will even get women for your woman. The next advert (probably the only half-decent one in the bunch) showed a woman who had run out of deodorant. So she uses her boyfriends, and as the advert follows her through her day at work she finds herself increasingly the object of female attention. Finally, returning home, she slaps her boyfriend and stomps off in a hump.

Lynx have, as the years progress, interleaved increasing numbers of increasingly naked women with a few of these more inventive ads. A brief run of ads recently showed that Lynx conferred "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"-style wire-fu abilities on the wearer, and before that one advert claimed that "male sweat only attracts other men". I think we can work out where that one was headed.

The pinnacle of Lynx advertising today is an ad in which a man sprays a ten-pence piece with Lynx. An attractive woman gets the scent (women in Lynx adverts are capable of detecting 1 part per billion deodorant in air), and rushes towards him, tearing off her glasses and letting down her hair in true "why Miss Jones, you're... you're beautiful" style. At the last moment our hero throws the coin into the fountain behind him. The girl dives in, to emerge a second later - at which point our hero starts spraying himself. Lynx is, if its adverts are to be believed, probably the single most powerful pheromone in the entire world. Even ants wouldn't be fooled by a coin - and even if they were, they'd keep hold of their glasses.

To summarize:

Lynx Phase 1: Lynx gets you a half-naked woman.
Lynx Phase 2: Lynx gets you two half-naked women.
Lynx Phase 3: Lynx gets you three or more half-naked women.
Lynx Phase 4: Lynx will turn straight girls if a woman wears it.
Lynx Phase 5: Lynx gets you an island full of half-naked women.
Lynx Phase 6: If you don't wear Lynx, you're gay.
Lynx Phase 7: Lynx gets you all the women.
Lynx Phase 8: Lynx gives you invicible kung-fu powers.
Lynx Phase 9: Lynx will make inanimate objects attractive to women.
Me Phase 1: I gets pissed off, vows never to buy Lynx ever again.

I look forward to Lynx's next advert, in which wearing Lynx transforms you into almighty god.

Postscript One: Lynx's billboards have usually been sly references to their TV campaigns, but their recent ads have definitely surpassed themselves: A collection of naked women curled into the words GET MORE. It's like they've given up all pretense. I can only assume that the next billboard ad for Lynx will be a close-up shot of a vagina being penetrated by a can of deodorant. Don't laugh at the back, people - it's only a matter of time.

Postscript Two: Hooray for alternatives! Mrs. Kludge bought some Original Source deodorant last week. It isn't mentioned on their website - but should be, because it's great. It smells of oranges, and is a delight to put on in the morning. Only disadvantage? Mrs. K. doesn't like it, so I can only wear it during the week.