Sunday, 25 October 2009


Those of you who frequent this blog on a regular basis will know that there are many TV adverts which, for want of a more eloquent phrase, irritate the tits off me. Advertisers now, more than any other time, seem to be very good at making adverts that are very bad. That is, specifically, very bad in the way they are produced, acted, scripted and conceived, and not necessarily bad at advertising their product or service; in fact, many of the adverts I have pulled apart on this blog probably do that job very well, as they've been so annoying that they've stuck in my brain long enough for me to remember what they were advertising. But they've pissed me off, and that's the main thing.

But there are adverts out there, believe it or not, which I do enjoy. They stand out as prime examples of adverts that are well made, acutely observed, or just fun to watch. And seeing as I've devoted so much time here on the adverts I hate, I thought it was time to redress the balance talking about some that I like.

My current favourite series of adverts on TV are the Barclays Bank adverts. I've enjoyed all the ads Barclays have made in this series, but these two in particular:

(Click here for the second one)

Now, why these adverts in particular, when there are so many that grate on me enough to write about them on the internet? Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly, Stephen Merchant. The voiceovers he supplies on these adverts are just great. Merchant is both witty and talented and his part in the ads gives them a fresh feel, fits in well with the rest of the adverts' content, whilst at the same time feeling genuinely "Merchanty", i.e. he hasn't sold out his own values and personality in order to make a quick buck on a bank advert.

Merchant's voiceover work also leads nicely into my second point, which is the way the adverts have been conceived. Barclays have put together some incredibly successful postmodern bank adverts. They've recognised the cliched ways that banking has been advertised over the years, rolling out extended metaphors for safety, security, easy access to savings and all the other things customers want from banks. They've then taken these ideas and created overblown, extravagant versions of them. So we get a woman chasing piggy banks around her garden as if they've all escaped from her house, an unseen armchair inhabitant firing rubber-sucker arrows at walking safes and a man attempting to cultivate giant pound coins in his garden. But Barclays have put just the right amount of tongue in their cheek with each one to make them neither pompous nor pathetic, but acutely observed. Merchant then slips his own cutting asides and humorous observations on what's happening into his "scripted" voiceover to tie the whole thing together.

Some simple adverts on the surface, but when investigated further they offer a lot more than at first glance and reveal some shrewd writing and directing that is seen in TV advertising all too rarely today. I'd be much happier watching commercial channels if there were more adverts of the Barclays, standard and less of the brain-numbingly dire Kingsmill Confessions level of advertising. Shudder.


Hanspan said...

Why did you put "scripted" in quotation marks? Even if Merchant had been free to ad lib, nothing would have gone on air without company seal of approval, so whether he improvised or not, it doesn't matter. It's still a corporate message, following a "script" of sorts, ie what ever product Barclays is trying to pitch.

Anonymous said...

True, but either Merchant is very good at making a script sound spontaneous, or he's been allowed to improvise to some degree. Obviously everything has been consciously decided upon to some degree, but I still think the fact that Merchant is doing the voiceover rather than, say, Dermot O'Leary adds to the overall style of the ad that I really like. It's kind of like the guy who does the commentary on Come Dine With Me - he's allowed some leeway with what he says, and although everything has to be okayed by someone from the production company before it goes out, ultimately it makes for a more entertaining experience than if he had to stick to the script rigidly.

Seriously, Hannah, I hope you weren't suggesting that I might be so naive as to think any form of media truly gives the audience a view or representation of real life...

Hanspan said...

I didn't think you genuinely believed it wasn't a corporate-approved advert, I was just curious.

ABut given how hard I'm working at covering a murder trial at the moment, I resent the implication that any form of media cannot give the audience a view or representation of real life! I do my best! ;P

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean it doesn't give the audience a view of real life, I meant it doesn't give them a 100% authentic view of real life. Unless you are witnessing something first hand as it happens, everything is passed through some form of filter or lens. That was the point I was trying to make :-)

TheTelf said...

I'd probably suggest that

"Unless you are witnessing something first hand as it happens, everything is passed through some form of filter or lens."

should be

"Even if you are witnessing something first hand as it happens, everything is passed through some form of filter or lens."

but I don't want to necessarily start that debate in a comment thread.

The adverts are great - I don't watch much (any) TV any more, so I don't really get to see any good or bad examples in their natural medium.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree with your correction, as of course everyone has different perceptions and biases for every single event ever, but that's maybe too cynical even for me :-)

Glad you're enjoying the adverts, they're the main thing I find simple enough to provide a potted criticism of here as I always want to type reams and reams about any TV programme or film that I've seen :-D