You'll probably be totally scandalised, especially if you're reading this in the icy grip of a Scottish winter, but I spent a lot of the time I was holidaying in Alice Springs recently watching the telly.
Sunbathing? Forget it, the concept doesn't exist in the Alice and in fact, even in less steamy parts of Australia, it's called sunbaking and is generally only practised by crazed chihuahuas and people of an English persuasion. Balmy it wasn't.
So, the telly won – quite a novel experience for me, since I don't actually own a set. Well I do, but since it's difficult to get a decent signal in Swifts Creek without going satellite, it's not so much a TV as a bookshelf, a coffee table or a pouffe. (I hope I spelled that right – the thing you put your legs up on. If you know what I mean).
The Northern Territory has its own television channel, Imparja, and whilst almost all of its programmes are the same old garbage you get everywhere else – tired cop shows, witless American sitcoms and the Antiques Roadshow – I nevertheless discovered some gems in the most unlikely of places.
The adverts. They were brilliant. And by brilliant, I mean, dreadful.
I've always been a lover of really bad ads. When I'd berate friends in advertising, they would always say (smugly, because they did smug rather well) that a bad ad was, by definition, a good ad, since it succeeded in raising the profile of the product it was puffing.
Product identification they called it, it got people talking, even if it was only to say how crappy and annoying the advert was; the merchandise seeped into the public psyche and, apparently that was all that mattered.
Is advertising all about simply recognising a brand name, then letting the consumer's subconscious do the rest? Watching TV in Alice Springs seemed the perfect time to re-consider this question since the Imparja channel hosted some of the worst adverts since 1970s STV.
There were the good ones of course – expensively produced slick ads for the likes of Hovis, Homepride Flour and the outrageously sexy one for Cadbury's Flake, but for me there was far greater mileage in the really crappy ads.
Duff adverts always had one thing in common – they were cheap. And it showed.
To name just a few: Shake'n'Vac – the woman with the mad dance who just loved hoovering. I've never met one yet. Then there was that one for Ferrero Roche chocolates – the Ambassadors' Reception – absolute pony and trap but nonetheless hilarious.
And of course, the Scottish ones, which were even better – and by that I mean worse. DCS carpets, the TSB’s "Which bank?" and a truly awful ad for an off licence whose name I can't remember which featured – yes it's true – the Alexander Brothers hiding whisky in a piano.
Did I make that one up? Sadly, no.
Then there were the public information ads: who can ever forget the bizarrely named Reginald Molehusband and the people "who came from miles around just to see him park"? Or the STV one featuring among others, the magnificent Una Mclean warning against sneak thieves. "That's me, away shoppin' again – haw haw! Open windy That's handy!"
The good news is that on Imparja lame, cheaply produced adverts are still the order of the day. They even have some totally bonkers public information ads, which range from the mildly self evident – "Don't fall asleep on the highway", to the blindingly obvious – "Swimming with crocodiles can be dangerous."
Also featured heavily is that much missed style of ad patented by Fred Pontin and his dodgy holiday camps; the boss of a company as the star of the commercial. In this case, it's Shorty of Shorty's Butchers who features, along with several of his staff, doing a meat-themed version of the Quick Fit fitters' dance of yore. With dangerously twirling butcher's knives. Brilliant.
Of course, as my ex-chums from the ad industry would no doubt remind me, the fact that all of these ads have made such an impression on me is proof positive that the strategy works. I can remember all the products. (Well, nearly all. The name of the one with the Alexander Brothers in it escapes me and I'd be obliged if anyone can supply it. Or maybe it was a ghastly dream?)
The fact that I do remember may lend credibility to the idea that it is all about product identification, but I have one final divergent contention.
There was an advert in the 1970s I only have to mention the first line of and anyone of a certain age will instantly recall it. It went like this – portentous drum roll – "This is luxury you can afford by....CYRIL LORD!!!!"
Remember it don't you? That's right, you do. But what was it for? What luxury did Cyril Lord provide? I'll put you out of your misery. It was an ad for carpets. And not long after that ad was on everyone's lips the company went belly up, with millions of pounds of debt. In fact, it was the best known and most readily identified bankruptcy in history.
Let's hope it doesn't happen to Shorty.
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