Sunday, 5 September 2010

Bupa: Britain's Friendliest Fear Merchants

I feel privileged to live in a time and a society where health care is free. Even better as a student I get all my prescriptions free too. Yay society. But if you so happen to feel above this crowning achievement of civilisation, you can always go one better and sign up with Bupa! I’ve never quite understood private health insurance; to sign up for it would be to me like investing in a time when I came down with a terrible disease like cancer. Then I would be somewhat looking forward to getting cancer because I’d spent all this money on making sure that when I did I’d be living in the lap of luxury.

Disturbingly this is what the Bupa ad campaign seems to promote ‘if you’re with us then having cancer will be like a holiday! You like holidays don’t you?’ with a bullshit layer of compassion that thinly disguises the true message of all adverts which is ‘BUY! BUY! BUY!’ Even more disturbing is the use of dehumanised pink blobs to represent people, with only facial hair and handbags to determine gender and identity. I was under the impression that Bupa as an organisation had quite a lot of money to throw around so it baffles me as to why they have produced this advert that with so many basic shapes, colours and animations looks as if it could have been knocked up in Adobe Flash in less time than the actual running time of the ad. Anyway, as the story goes, Emma the pink circle feels fine until one day she realises she has a tumour and turns into a sort of grey oval. But everything is brilliant because Emma is with Bupa and a badly animated scene later she wakes up in a clean and cosy room after a successful operation, a much better alternative than being found dead in an NHS ditch after being killed in an operation in a room that was so filthy, the dirt on the walls absorbed all of the already poor light given out by the candles that the over stretched public health sector budget struggled to provide.

Through all its bright colours, soft narration and music, Bupa is effectively selling fear. The fear of death. Ultimately death is what it is trying to prevent for its customers but why would anyone want to buy into it if they weren’t afraid of death? It manages to instil this fear subtly at first by praising Bupa facilities over NHS facilities (without actually mentioning the NHS of course, just by picking out general fears people have over public sector health care, hygiene, comfort, quality of care etc.) but then towards the end jumps straight in the fear mongering pool feet first by having the happy newly healthy pink blob family (now joined by a barking brown rectangle) walk past a huge billboard that reads “Cancer directly affects 1 in 3 people” So if you’re sat watching TV with two or more people, it’s guaranteed you’ll all be quietly shitting yourselves thinking “I hope it’s not me” and maybe one of you will pick up the phone and call Bupa out of fear. Mission accomplished. Bed side canap├ęs will be served at 7pm.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Video Games and Advertising: The Awkward Relationship

Television advertising of video games has never worked all that well. It only takes a quick look back to Nintendo's 1986 Legend of Zelda TV ad campaign to see that it never had a good start (go hunt it out on youtube, I guarantee you will not be disappointed). The problem is simple, the masses do not take video games seriously as an art form, and the masses watch television, so when they see this inadequate form of entertainment they laugh it off. This isn't a criticism, think about it, cinema, music, literature, television all widely accepted forms of entertainment, but video games? The term instantly throws up depraved images of teenage boys sat in dark bedrooms hammering buttons with their thumbs, an association still somewhat valid, the vast majority of people who play video games are still teenage/twenty-something males. Video games have not matured enough in the eyes of the masses to become a serious contender in media. Whilst the Wii is affecting a change, it’s going to be some time until people start taking games such as the Halo franchise seriously. This simple logic however seems to have eluded some developers and others in the industry; who periodically churn out ads like the current 'Halo Reach' ad, a laughably bad piece of melodramatic horse shit.

Its problem is instantly noticeable; it takes itself far too seriously. I'd like to be able to describe what happens in the ad but I honestly have no idea. The whole thing is drowned in grim, dark colours, for what I assume is dramatic effect but just ends up making the sequence look about as deep as a fat goth who’s trying too hard. It doesn't help that the music that it's set to is a solitary drawling piano that leads in to a solitary female hum, a failed and weak attempt to recapture the effect of the Gears of War campaign featuring the Michael Andrews and Gary Jules version of Mad World which was about as charming as a dead cat to start off with. It's all very unclear what's happening, then a soldier (or 'spartan' as my three second scan of wikipedia would reveal) takes into the air, flies in to a large space craft and throws an armed explosive device he recently discovered on the ground next to an identical looking comrade in to the centre of the space craft, leaving the camera to pan out as a large explosion takes place in an almost impressively banal fashion tying in perfectly with the rest of the ad. Now I'm not accustomed with the storyline of Halo but on the surface of it it seems to be genetically modified soldiers fighting aliens in space. Am I right? I'm fairly sure that's basically it, it's about as inspired as calling your main character something hideously generic like Master Chief. Oh wait.

This banality and non entertainment makes me wonder who this advert is trying to target? It's visual dullness and confusing plot line make it unappealing and alienating to people who've never heard of the Halo franchise or even those who have played it and take a casual interest. The only obvious audience it leaves is fans of the franchise, but surely the degenerates who understand and appreciate this exercise in generic storyline and game play (there I said it, Halo is a generic and over rated game) are already convinced that ‘Halo Reach’ will be awesome and will go out and buy it without any further convincing. So why bother? It could have been made well, take a look at the recent StarCraft 2 ad campaign, an example in video game advertising done right, it’s visually exciting, fast paced, intriguing and not all that anal. Sure it’s using tried and tested techniques, you’d be mistaken on first watch that StarCraft 2 is the next James Cameron CG epic, but if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Holy fucking dog shit the video title is even more pretentious than the video itself

Friday, 3 September 2010

Feminine Hygiene: The Landmine in the Ad Break

The menstrual cycle, the scourge of men, women and in recent times television viewers everywhere. Period’s happen, we all know this and we live with it, we just don’t talk about it. Why? Because it’s unpleasant, no matter which way you look at it it boils down to two words, bleeding vaginas. Wince a little? Of course you did, this is why nobody discusses jammy dodger season. Unfortunately the necessity of ‘feminine hygiene products’ has created a necessity to advertise said products, meaning we are now subjected to thinking about this unfortunate twist of nature potentially any time we are too lazy to get up and do something constructive during the ad break.

I can’t tell you much about the vast array of products designed for that certain time of the month apart from Always Ultra sanitary pads, a name now burned into my head thanks to its incredible advertising techniques. My first encounter with this particular ad came a long time ago whilst enjoying Chuck Norris at his finest, before he was cool, in ‘Walker: Texas Ranger’ on Bravo in the middle of the day. Now forgive me if I’m wrong, but surely, no woman is ever watching Bravo, a channel that is so overly macho you expect it to give you a playful yet bruising punch in the ribs and a pint of Stella served on a Nuts magazine every time you tune in. Despite this however this particularly worrying advertisement came blazing on to screen about as welcome as a pork chop in a synagogue right in the middle of a program that is so male oriented it borders homoeroticism.

Instantly we’re hit by a wonderful visual metaphor of bumper cars bouncing off the new “blue secure guard protective contours” which according to the soft female voice narrating this mental torture keep “all you’d want, exactly where you’d want it to be” now I can’t speak as a woman, but I believe if women had a choice the vast majority would want the lining of their uterus to stay where it was and not have to periodically bleed it out, no matter how great the “blue secure guard contours” are. This awful visual metaphor continues for a round twenty seconds, accompanied by traditional fairground/circus music, a disturbing juxtaposition which gives the advert a sinister nightmarish feel ensuring that what you have just seen will be scarred in to your memory forever. It all ends with a tag line that baffles even the greatest minds “Have a happy period” I challenge everyone reading this (if anyone is actually reading this) to find anybody who has experienced a “happy period” A time of the month where women become irritable (understandably may I add just to ensure the sexist door in this post is firmly locked shut) and straight men in committed relationships have to wait anything up to a week to enjoy penetrative sex again, or not, if that’s how you choose to live your life.

We hardly ever see adverts for other genital related products such as condoms or contraceptive pills and there’s a simple reason nobody suffers as a result of their infrequent exposure, it’s because we already know they exist. Like we already know tampons and sanitary pads exist, for what reason do we need televised reminders of their existence, purpose and availability on such a regular basis other than to spoil peoples viewing enjoyment?

Music in Advertising: The Lobotomy of Art

One of the undisputed song writing masters of our time Stevie Wonder once sang that “music is a world within itself with, a language we all understand”. But what happens when that world is invaded by money hungry corporations that twist its language to lure the precious little money you have from you in a scenario ironically similar to Stevie’s career in the 80s?

Sadly we’ve all been there, sat enjoying some of television’s richest fruits only to find that in the commercial break corporate blood suckers have seized the opportunity to rape and pillage a much loved song in to a 30 second backing track to accompany garish images of something new to squander your meagre funds on. Most recently Clark’s has touched a nerve, although the rage that I felt when watching this particular advert was more accustomed to somebody physically throttling my spinal cord.

The crushing hammer of musical disillusionment began to fall whilst I was leaving the glare of the TV screen to avoid such a catastrophe during the ad break. It was only until I was just out of the door did I hear the opening line to Birdhouse in Your Soul, a personal favourite by the American new wave come alternative rock band They Might Be Giants, flowing with all its saccharine nostalgia and optimism. In disbelief I whipped back in to the room to see what possible purpose this song could possibly be serving between the two halves of ‘Coronation Street’ only to be greeted to a nightmarish vision of a society, where select children have grown to gigantic proportions and are allowed to run, cycle and skate freely over school playgrounds and idealised suburbia in the name of promoting a shoe retailer most people of recent generations have not had the displeasure of dealing with since they were in need of shoes for school. In little over thirty seconds a favourite song had become irreversibly mentally linked to the thought of generic shoe design and the childhood dread of starting a new year at school with shoes your mother chose for you. All of its original sentiment and personality removed, lobotomised.