iPhone 3G ad: Apple finally succumbs to own hubris

At last, an opportunity to legitimately write about something Apple-y (outside of my other bloggy stuff). The worst-kept secret in recent tech history, the announcement of the iPhone 3G (it’s just like the old one, but a bit quicker), brought with it a brand new TV ad to celebrate/begin-the-brainwashing-of-gullible-idiots-like-me.

This one has a pair of burly security types basically hauling said Jesus-phone product into, well, a different room, to unveil the handset in all its glimmering just-like-the-old-one glory. Aaaaaaand that’s it.

Pretty much the only thing this ad shares in common with those for the original iPhone is a commitment to simplicity. But whereas those old ads took the form of only-slightly-patronising ‘tutorials’ on how the thing worked, this one goes for the kind of simplicity that just seems cocky – it’s trying way too hard, and probably overestimates the general populace’s interest in what is, after all, just a phone.

Which also kinda smacks of the same problem Apple had with their ‘Mac vs PC’ ads here in the UK. Whereas in the States the Mac guy is only borderline patronising, key to avoiding the all-too-credible stereotype of Mac users as smug, superior beings just waiting to beam about their beloved computers, here in the UK someone had the disastrous idea of employing comedians-of-the-moment Mitchell & Webb to enact almost the exact same scripts, with their own distinctive characters. The well-documented problem with this was Robert Webb’s take on Mac: smug, superior, and positively beaming patronising gumf about the Mac platform. The ads tanked and have since been pulled.

Full disclosure: I use Macs all the time and also own an iPhone. So, uh, it’s OK to criticise…


June 14, 2008. Tags: , , . apple, TV ads. 1 comment.

Recipe for an ad #2: luxury cars

This is a great recipe if you’re a massively-overpaid ad agency picking up a commission from one of the world’s luxury car-makers and all that green stuff lying around in wheelbarrows is really stifling your creativity.

The real beauty of this recipe is the ingredients, because for a luxury car ad, pretty much anything goes – as long as it has nothing to do with cars, that is. Once you grasp this basic law of luxury car ad-making, you can’t miss – and can get back to thinking about how to shift all that annoying cash back out the door.


  • A large quantity of ANY RANDOM STUFF. As mentioned above, you’re going to need to get creative here, but don’t worry, we won’t be taxing your imaginations too much. Just look around you for starters: that novelty desk fan, for example. Now, wouldn’t that look a bit edgy if, I don’t know, you stuck it in a dark room and lit it dramatically from behind. Some swooshy sound-effects and you’re halfway there already.
  • To make your ad really look like all the rest stand out from the crowd, consider getting all techno-agey and adding some CGI. Think about how people will feel when they pretend to own and drive the car you’re selling. Might they feel like flying? Then add some CGI wing-tip-induced vapour trails. Might it be something a bit like being a seal, swimming freely in the vast, unpoluted oceans of adworld? Make your car transform into a school of fish!
  • Now you’re in the swing of your randomised concept, chop together some swooshy sound effects and maybe some really bloody dramatic music what sounds a bit classical-y.
  • To add something really special to your luxury car ad, consider hiring a deep-voiced voiceover person to spout some utterly meaningless pseudo-poetry over the random imagery you’re going to chuck together in the method.


Seriously, this couldn’t be any easier. Start by laying down all the really random imagery you’ve concocted, then overlay your CGI effects with the odd, barely-comprehensible glimpse of the car you’re actually trying to get people to buy.

Next, mix in the swooshy sound effects to taste and lay the whole mixture onto a bed of really bloody dramatic music what sounds a bit classical-y.

Finally, to finish the recipe, overcook a nonsensical voiceover spouting a bunch of crap about how the car defines every facet of your materialistic life, and voila!

If your creativity is still stumped by all of this, or it’s just a bit hard to follow, check out the following for inspiration:


June 4, 2008. Tags: , , , . Recipes, TV ads. Leave a comment.

Sure. Is. Scary.

There are a bunch of ways an ad can try and get its message across in the mercifully short time it has to make you BUY! BUY! BUY! It can make you laugh, it can make you cry (my usual reaction to advertising), it might even make you feel something (I still want a VW Beetle after those ads with the Aqualung ‘Strange & Beautiful’ track – couldn’t find a vid, anyone help out?). But it’s rare that an ad tries to get you to buy something by SCARING the LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of you. (Unless it’s about road accidents or drink driving, in which case that’s the point I suppose).

With that in mind, this scared the bejeezus out of me when I saw it in the cinema – all settled in with my giant pick n mix and a bucket of Fanta:

Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to invoke the deep, dark insecurities felt by teenage girls ALL THE TIME by enacting said insecurities in a ghost train?!? Those things are scary anyway! Not so much the wobbly skeletons glowing in the dark type stuff, more scary in the ‘there’s an overweight bearded man touching my shoulder in the dark’ kind of way. Much worse.

So, good look Sure in trying to shift more canisters of anti-perspirant – we’re all gonna need some deodorant after sweating our way through this ad.

May 25, 2008. Tags: , . Cinema ads, Sure, TV ads. 1 comment.

Plagiarism corner #5: VW Golf vs. Honda vs. Ford Focus vs. Sacla vs. Lasse Gjertsen megamix

Bit tenuous this one, and all the more difficult because it’s a) quite a good ad and b) for a car I actually quite enjoy driving (I hire rather than own, and have had a couple of Golfs. Golves?). Nevertheless, my pseudo-plagiarism spidey sense tingled on seeing VW’s latest:

Yes, it’s another ad taking as its starting point the idea that you can create a lovely musical soundtrack using only the natural sounds the featured product actually makes. Alright, the Golf ad takes the idea and for once actually evolves it a little. For another equally ‘evolved’ take on the basic formula, anyone remember this Honda ad from a little while ago:

This one bugged the hell out of me, and I’m usually quite a fan of Honda ads. For a real ‘treat’ why not also check out this epic 3 minute spot for the Ford Focus, lamentably using actual car parts. In my view this is at least a more creatively fulfilling use for a Ford Focus than actually driving one:

And to wrap up this almighty bout of plagiarism wars (which in fairness should really be called ‘ideas collaboration’ or something similar), see my earlier post for videos by Sacla and the original YouTube hit video by Lasse Gjertsen. I won’t go so far as to suggest Lasse came up with the fundamental concept, but you can’t pretend his vid hasn’t made it massive in the ad world ever since.

May 9, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , . Ford, honda, Plagiarism Corner, TV ads, VW. 2 comments.

Recipe for an ad #1: Cosmetics

It’s not easy being an ad-maker: spending all day long trying to come up with innovative ways to peddle useless chuff to people who are trying in vein to avoid being advertised to in the first place. Not to mention having to contend with cowboys like me terrorizing your every effort, ripping apart the very fabric of your creativity for, y’know, yuks. So, in an attempt to ‘give something back’ to this much maligned and misunderstood community, I present the first in a series of handy DIY guides to creating the perfect ad.

Today we’ll tackle a fairly easy subject in this field: cosmetics ads. Suitable for even beginners at ad-making, this recipe will concentrate on beauty products, but it can easily be adapted for hair-care or even dental products (such as sonic toothbrushes, for example) should you so wish.


  • 1 x celebrity, ideally film-star, looking to boost PR and imaginary child’s trust-fund (add more for a more potently-irritating flavour or if your stars aren’t quite stellar – see Garnier & Eva Longoria etc. For male cosmetic products choose hairy-chested role models on a bit of a career nosedive – eg Pierce Brosnan; Matthew Fox etc)
  • 1 x overbearing ‘authoritative’ voiceover artist
  • A small pinch of scientific fact
  • A generous helping of scientific gobbledegook to mask over the limited amount of scientific fact
  • 3 tbsp whizzy graphics trickery
  • 1 x cheese-laden tagline (eg ‘You’re worth it’; ‘Take care’ etc)


  1. Begin by showing some gratuitous close-ups of your chosen celebrity star or stars. For added irritation, have them spout some nonsense about it being difficult to keep their 45-year-old skin looking like they’re 18, or something.
  2. Add graphical trickery here whilst introducing the product. In case of a hair-care advertisement, consider adding liberal dosings of slow-motion hair-swishing shots to taste.
  3. Sift the scientific fact and scientific gobbledegook into the overbearing authoritative voiceover, and stir in folding generously to maximise patronisation.
  4. Over-bake the mixture until the gobbledegook has thoroughly blended into the public’s consciousness, before finishing with a sprinkling of cheese-laden tagline.

There you have it, would-be ad-makers. Now, go forth and make us consume! 

May 1, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , . Cosmetics, Recipes, TV ads. 2 comments.

Whatever happened to the ‘ding’ in funding?

I could write for hours on the ubiquity of ‘sponsor’ ads bookending TV shows at the moment, but that’s for another post (aren’t you excited? AREN’T YOU?). I do want to natter for a moment about these though: the Orange Film Funding Board ads that you’ll see in front of pretty much any feature film at the cinema these days.

This for me is a low point, although it’s doing great guns on YouTube:

I’ve banged on about stunt-casting before, but here Orange take it in a different direction by playing the old Morecambe & Wise (and latterly Ricky Gervais’ rather marvellous Extras) trick of getting a well-known celebrity to play a kind of alternate reality version of themselves. In the above example, Snoop Dogg is made out to be…well actually, come to think of it, probably how most of us ignorant to the hip hop world imagine him to be – with the ‘hilarious’ exception that instead of reaching for a pistol (I can only assume to ‘pop a cap in someone’s ass’ etc etc), he actually pulls out a tic tac. A tic tac!! Hahaha.

The series (for there are many of them now) had fairly inauspicious beginnings with the following:

(The Star Wars theme was revisited with a very good Vader-centric spot around the time Revenge of the Sith came out).

A high point was the first spot that dispensed with the boardroom, and instead found Alan Cumming chasing a keep-fit-mad Mr Dresden around a park trying to pitch his project. I can’t find it anywhere so if you have it, please send it and I can post it up – it rather puts the later efforts to shame.

What’s my beef? I don’t know really, it might just be that they’ve run out of juice and the gag is finally wearing thin. The ads are now based on the sets of movies which are interrupted in a vital scene by Messrs Dresden and co. (including that doughnut-wielding guy – brilliant!) and it just doesn’t quite cut it. Taking the ultimate litmus test: in the early ads you’d have a full cinema laughing away as the ‘turn off your mobile phone’ closing card came up. These days you get a few cursory coughs and perhaps the odd titter. Maybe time to rethink the joke?

April 21, 2008. Tags: , , , . Cinema ads, orange. Leave a comment.

Virgin Media stunt-casting comes of age

UPDATE: the good folks over at The Guardian’s generally-excellent Hard Sell column have clearly been thinking along similar lines about our good friend Sam. Check it out.

‘Stunt casting’ – the process of attempting to enliven potentially dull material with the often budget-busting inclusion of a famous face to front said material – is so often the bane of my working life. In my day-job involved in commissioning new work from up-and-coming filmmaking talent, so often I’ve had a conversation with the prospective director questioning whether they really need so-and-so-who-used-to-be-in-Eastenders to really make the impact they’re going for*.

Virgin Media’s ad-campaign to date has been a bit of a case in point. We’ve had a number of celebrities extolling the virtues of Virgin’s phone, TV, mobile and broadband services – Ruby Wax feels like a bit of a low point, and until the latest campaign kicked off (more below) you would probably say the Uma Thurman spots were as good as it got – but they’ve always felt a little…well, stunt casted. (Casted? Cast?) I just don’t really believe Uma Thurman uses Virgin Media services, and if she does, does she even know she’s using them or have they just been wired up to make sure the entirety of the internet is available to her when needed? Ruby Wax, now I can just about buy that she puts in her own internet etc. Or can I…

Anyway, never mind all of that, because guess who’s now the face of Virgin Media:

Yes, it’s your favourite film star and mine, none other than SAMUEL L. JACKSON. The difference, though, is that rather than go for the self-referentially cool approach of having said uber-star tell us just how great life is with Virgin Media in their world, this time Sam is here to read out excerpts from what sounds like a militant manifesto to ditch TV as we know it. And I actually think it works – I don’t know if it’s just such a nice, mature contrast to the not-quite-satisfactory previous campaigns, or even if I’m just swayed by more dynamic swizzy graphics going on in the background, but in any case, if the test of a great ad is ‘do you want to buy/try/find out more about this product’ then I’m certainly more interested than I was when Ruby was gurning away.

Have a view? Fire off in the comments.

*I’m being a bit cruel – I had the great pleasure of being involved in a short film called Expresso, the very definition of ramming a short film full of as many famous faces as you can in 10 minutes, including Sir Norman Wisdom no less, and the film has gone on to be a big success, even raising tons of cash for Macmillan Cancer Research as part of a coffee-morning giveaway campaign.


April 10, 2008. Tags: , , , , , . TV ads, Virgin Media. Leave a comment.

Plagiarism corner #4: Crusha vs. ‘Funny’ Cats

You wait for one ad blatantly ripping off moderately innovative videos from the interweb of c. 2005, and then a bunch come along at once.

This time it’s milky sugar-drink purveyors Crusha getting in on the act:

Where have you seen it before? Your email inbox probably (if you can be bothered to wait through the overlong ‘opening titles’ sequence – seriously, do you want to be associated with this?):

Actually, I’m sure an even more ‘wild’ video was doing the round that had a whole band made up of badly-animated kittens. I would have spent longer looking for it, but I was paralysed by not caring (thank you Joss Whedon for another phrase I can’t remember how I ever did without).

UPDATE: As several commenters have pointed out, the Crusha ad is actually BY the person who did the originals: www.rathergood.com. Is it plagiarism if you use your own idea?!?

April 9, 2008. Tags: , , , , . crusha, Plagiarism Corner, TV ads. 2 comments.

Plagiarism corner #3: Berocca vs. OK Go

Honestly, when I started Plagiarism Corner I didn’t expect to have such a volume of material. Thank God for Berocca, then, with this little gem:

Haven’t we seen this idea somewhere before? Well, if you’re one of 32 million people (and counting) who’ve watched the following excellent video on YouTube, then yes:

When will it end…

April 9, 2008. Tags: , , , , . Berocca, Plagiarism Corner, TV ads. 4 comments.

Shell make gas-to-liquid rom-com

ShellI couldn’t let this little beauty pass without comment – Shell’s current assault on cinemas proclaiming the miracle of gas-to-liquid fuel.

If you hit their website and click to watch the ‘Clear The Air’ film, you’re treated to a whopping 7-minute director’s cut version of the ad that is running in cinemas at the moment. There’s not loads to choose between them – in the cinema, you’ll get a slimline story about how one Shell employee travels the world by various gas-guzzling transport methods, including at one point soaring over raging forest fires in a twin-engine plane, searching for an answer as to why Shell’s mission to make GTL fuel work is failing miserably (spoiler alert: it’s to do with the bleedin’ great forest fires, of course).

If you watch the extended version, you get the same basic story bookended by the kind of shallow, utterly unlikely romantic love-interest b-plot you’d expect in a Farrelly Brothers movie. It turns out that, years previously, Mr Shell had a run-in with Attractive Other Shell Employee about the best way to truly make a difference in the global war on terror global warming. She leaves the company to go and hug trees for 12 years, whilst he stays with Shell and pursues the commercially-unviable, but terribly environmentally friendly, GTL idea.

Flashforward to 2002 and he’s giving a talk about how GTL is the new black, and Attractive Ex-Shell Employee rocks back up to ask him some difficult questions from the back of the audience. They have dinner, of course, after which he goes and sorts out the whole problem (with said plane journey in all its expensive-to-film glory) anyway.

There are so many things that annoy me about this film – some little things, like the guy’s smug face as if Shell are somehow riding in on a white horse to save the planet rather than being a big old oil company, and some larger, like exactly how much did it all cost and wouldn’t it rather be more interesting to use that money to actually help the environment?It’s probably all moot anyway – with any luck we’ll all be driving hydrogen-propelled cars dripping pure clean water out the tailpipe within a decade or so.

April 4, 2008. Tags: , , , . Cinema ads, Shell. Leave a comment.

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