April 13, 2003
Brit adverts and Brit-directed movies

There's a big spread in today's Sunday Times about a new All In One Take TV advert for the Honda Accord. Apparently they needed over six hundred takes to get the one take that got it right. And because of that, the Sunday Times is giving them more square inches of free advertising, and now so am I.

This advert is an improvement over the ones with babies being born in hospitals, in a televisually appealing way (as if). At least they are fetishising and fantasising about the bits of the car doing odd things, rather than fantasising about the lives of the fantasy couple who represent the lifestyle aspirations of their target demographic, which always pisses me off. That's probably because I feel excluded, and that's probably because I am excluded. I'm not in the market for any sort of car.

British TV advertising is a strange, strange thing. It costs a fortune. US TV advertising, by comparison is cheap and cheerful and straightforward, or so I'm told. We sell cars!!! Buy one!!! They're good, and cheap!!! Come and get one!!! British car adverts, by comparison, are like mini-Hollywood films. I've always assumed this to be something to do with there being a car cartel, which promises itself to charge far too much for each car, and then semi-breaks ranks by spending absurd sums on adverts, on account of the profit per car sold being so huge.

I've also been told that because British TV advert censoring is centralised, you only need one advert for the whole country, while in the USA you have to bash your way past every little local politician from the towers of Manhattan to the Grand Canyon and beyond. There are advantages, I guess, to not having real local government, which in Britain we don't. It's a nationalised industry, only disguised as local.

Advertising has been one of the great cultural influences of Britain on the world in recent decades. They’ve been showing a documentary in recent days on BBC4, which is one of the free digital channels, about that generation of advertising whizzes who masterminded the switch in Britain from dull old black and white adverts which told you the product and the price and where to get it, to groovy colour magazine and colour TV adverts which were like guessing games directed by Frederico Fellini.

It spurred these people into creative action that one of the products they made a particular stir out of selling, Benson and Hedges cigarettes, were something it became illegal to advertise by conventional means, such as saying they were nice to smoke or stylish or sexy. Art was all they were allowed. Surrealism for the posters, and fully fledged mini-movies for the TV adverts.

One of these whizzes, David Puttnam, is now a New Labour Lord. He said he felt bad about how so many of the products that they all sold in their younger days were bad, like cigarettes and cars, instead of virtuous like New Labour. But of course later he did advertise New Labour. This network of movers and shakers, having done regular advertising, then took over political advertising. "Labour Isn't Working" was one of theirs. And now, I dare say, their various minions are producing the equally popular range of "The Conservatives Are Simply, Simply Ghastly! I Mean, Really!!" posters.

Several of these Brits, who started out directing TV commercials, now direct for Hollywood, or try to. One of them is called Parker, and most of the others are called Scott. One of the Scotts directed Top Gun, which is one of my favourite movies, because it fetishises jet airplanes and their pilots, and how these things together helped to win the Cold War by winning secret battles with the Russians over the Indian Ocean. Personally, I was in favour of all that and I still am.

And a Scott also directed Alien, unless I'm mistaken, although Alien wasn't mentioned. Alien, I think, illustrates the virtues of these people most vividly, which is their extreme attention to the minutest details of visual appearance and visual atmosphere. When they apply this approach to cars or cigarettes, you think: oh for heaven's sake, it's only a car, it’s only fags. Even Top Gun is only jet airplanes, which not everyone reckons to be worth all that Scottery. But science fiction in the cinema stands or falls entirely by how real it looks and feels, and benefits hugely from the Scottist attention to detail.

Contrast Alien, with the (I think) ridiculous Star Wars movies, ridiculous (in this particular respect anyway) because, as the Alien posters subsequently explained, Nobody Can Hear You Scream in space, and by implication, nobody can hear a spaceship flying past your spaceship either. I remember the Alien movies as one of the first serious attempts to explain how squalid and grubby and damp, but also how quiet, actual space travel would likely be. When a major part of the point of any movie you are producing is that it should look right and feel right (and provided but if you have a lot of money to spend) then send for one of these Brits. I think Blade Runner also came from the same stable, did it not? Wasn't that a Scott movie too?

Jennings will no doubt clarify all the factual vaguenesses and confusions in the above paragraphs, in your own time please Michael. I thank him in advance.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:53 PM
Category: AdvertisingMoviesTV commercials