Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Bad Adverts - Thatchers' People Who Care About Cider

At least it's not 'People Who Care About Cidre', I suppose.

Really, this is more bizarre than bad: in a what-were-they-thinking kinda way.

I realise we can't all spin off the endless-summery-days-of-bullshit yarn Magners has bottled and sold, and I think I might possibly even like Thatchers, inasmuch as it's possible to like any cider brand that can afford its own billboard advertising, but...

I mean, look at it: it looks for all the world like an American horror b-movie: the sort of movie where a bunch of personality-bypass teens go on an unlikely road trip through some non-Democrat state then take a short-cut/wrong turn through uncharted dirt roads and end up breaking down inbetween gas stations and getting stalked by inbred mechanics before being picked off one-by-one in increasingly ridiculous displays of brutality, only for the last remaining actress (or actor, occasionally) to escape, bloodied and ragged, to a call box or a free-way or some other thing-we-have-over-here-with-an-American-name and then BANG: there's a shock ending that paves the way for a sequel, or some sort of unforeseeable TWIST that, likewise, paves the way for a sequel.

You know the ones. There are literally hundreds of them.

Except it's about cider, and therefore presumably set in Somerset: probably the least likely setting for a horror/road movie of that type on the face of this planet.

(Although our Proton did get run off the road betwixt Bridgwater and Taunton once and we all nearly died, but that would have made a pretty rubbish movie and/or cider advert.)

That silhouetted dude coming into his warehouse looks like exactly the kind of shadowy figure whose hideous features would loom above you, gurning from behind some rudimentary antique medical equipment glinting in the candlelight. So why is he being used to advertise cider? Am I missing something? I mean, I usually am missing something - if not, indeed, the whole point - but surely all you've got to do is replace the cider on that table with, say, a severed head, or a rusty cleaver in a pool of congealed blood, and then change the WELCOME TO THATCHERS logo to read something 'local' and 'creepy' like:

Goblin Combe
Shepton Mallet*

and the tag-line to read likewise, like:

People who care about MURDER
People who care about ENTRAILS
People who DON'T care about CIDER

And you've got an instant cult success on your hands.

If it was a b-movie.

As to marketing an actual cider; well, I admit I haven't the first clue about how one should go about doing that. Just... I dunno... don't go for a wacky horror movie angle for no apparent reason and/or possibly by accident.

Also, what's with that sun? Is it rising or setting?

If it's setting there's no excuse for the light not being switched on, and if it's rising methinks Mr. Leatherface cares a bit too much about cider.

No visible light source explains the cider itself, which consequently comes over a bit Peckham Spring.

Very odd. Not convinced.

Yours, disapprovingly,


* Actually Shepton Mallet is pretty scary, because Sidney Cooke used to live there. I know this to be true because when I was driven through at the age of 15 there was a large hand-painted sign advertising the fact. (I don't think it was in a "come-and-visit-our-amazing [attraction]" kind of way, either...

Friday, 5 August 2011

[Exactly] 150 Words on 'What Makes a Good Writer'

I found this while cleaning out my documents folder at work today. It must be from a job application or something, because I can't think I'd have written it for fun:

150 Words - What Makes a Good Writer

The ability to communicate any given message to any given audience using the fewest possible words and the most appropriate language – usually the simplest.

An awareness and understanding of structure, tone and rhetorical techniques; a love of some words and a hatred of others. (And a rational explanation for both, if pressed.)

A thirst for knowledge and a passion for the minutiae of the rules of language, tempered only with a realistic appreciation of its fluidity and that, ultimately, words come to mean what people use them to mean: a willingness to break old rules and make new ones.

An interest in and awareness of style guides and their influence on both editorial and – by extension – the expectations of the readership.

An appreciation of the reader, and the reader’s relationship with the writer, at all times.

The willingness to follow a brief to the letter.

A suitably jazzy waistcoat collection.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bad Language: Jumping The Shark Vs The Nicolas Cage Version

This isn't a new phrase exactly.

Technically, it's been (or at least could have been) around for longer than me: since 1977 to be precise, when the offending episode of Happy Days - a programme I dimly remember from my youth as being fair evidence of my mother's nonspecific assertion that TV was bad for you - first aired.

However, I've only noticed its use on these shores over the last few years; from being a sort of niche phrase employed (presumably) specifically to describe plotlines in American TV shows it's fast become a voguish term for anything happening anywhere than anyone has an opinion about that they want to furnish with some gravitas and ironic humour.

I have no problem with the idiom, on the surface: it's colourful, surreal and as a phrasal verb it has endless possibilities for adaptation:
"You totally jumped the shark there dude..."
"I hear they're getting a new actress to play Madge in Neighbours - it's gonna jump the shark, isn't it?"
"My variable rate mortgage is totally jumping the shark with these new caveats they're introducing."
Well, I say endless...

My problem with the phrase is that there doesn't seem to be a satisfactory level of agreement on its meaning. A troublesome quality for any idiom, I'm sure you'll agree, although certainly not a unique one; idiots all around us constantly misuse language, primarily due to an ambivalence toward etymology and - by extension, we presume - an apathy toward the relationship between the sounds and shapes - emitted from the mouth or displayed on a screen - and the meanings they evolved to convey.

The definitions on Wiktionary and Wikipedia are examples of this.

The Happy Days page describes the phrase as indicating:
"Something successful that is perceived to irreparably decline in quality."
Wiktionary's take:
"To undergo a storyline development which is so exceptional that all content following is disappointing."
There's even a whole Wikipedia page devoted to the phrase, which chips in with the following definition:
"When a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery."
There is little agreement between these phrases, except in that what follows is inferior to that which occurred prior to the jumping of the shark. I have never watched Happy Days - or at least not with sufficient concentration to discern any variation in quality between episodes, which always seemed consistently low to me.

This is an issue: most idioms we know (or think we know) the meanings of through experience and association. The virulent popularity of the phrase in question has fast elevated it to cliché status, but from the great disparity in intended meanings in the sentences in which I see it employed, it seems comprehension hasn't had time to catch up with intention. Often when you refer to the source material of an idiom you'll find it has a rather different meaning from the one you or others associate it with, and that in evolving (or mutating, depending on your P.O.V.) the phrase has both lost and gained, but I would argue the weight is in favour of the loss in these instances.

A recent example that springs to mind from my own research is "spitting feathers", which is commonly used to mean "angry", and has somehow come to that misunderstanding from originally meaning "thirsty".

Ironically our colonial "friends" often offer warmer clues to the true sources of these linguistic kinks than our own vernacular can.

So if you truly want to understand what someone means when they say the Liberal Democrats' new party political broadcast has "jumped the shark" - just an example - other than that they are claiming a fairly comprehensive understanding of the narrative or plot of said party's policy as expressed by marketing from the party's genesis right up to the modern day, and that they believe some irreparable damage has been done to the party's brand and (presumably) future election hopes, you really need to gauge one or both of:
a) their appreciation and understanding of the TV show Happy Days.
b) their diligence in rooting out the meaning in the language they choose to employ.
Frankly, you can rely on few people to show the latter, and I personally do not value the former as a quality.

In this instance, did the phrase user think the Lib Dems were good before they saw this broadcast or not? was the broadcast itself spectacular or merely a spectacle? It's difficult to tell, isn't it?

If we truly require a quirky phrase to indicate a new incarnation of a previously valuable or effective thing in which much of the original integrity is compromised beyond repair, although done so in a way which afford the smug observationailsts among us a degree of self-satisfaction in observing it - a touch of schadenfreude, if you will - I propose the following, which could probably be used in 85% of the instances you use that shark phrase:
Adjectivethe Nicolas Cage version
An amusing but disastrous take on a previously well-thought-of concept.  [quotations ▼]
"Man, that new Lib Dem broadcast really was the Nicolas Cage Version."
Admittedly it won't do for American TV show plotline metaphors, but as an American movie remake metaphor I'm sure you'll agree there's some cross-over with the possible instances in which you may employ it, if you just check on whatever Venn diagram you use to work these things out in your brain.

Yours, studiously,


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bad Adverts - BP's Olympian Carbon Footprint

A beach?


I was going to write something the other week about the crappy sponsorship ad - I forget the culprit: some car-related product bigging up its association with F1 - but this one really takes the biscuit. (And shits on it.)

The thing is, sponsorship is sponsorship: it's between you and your business partners. You broker a mutually beneficial deal between a brand and an event or a brand and a person or a brand and an initiative, or whatever, and then you sit back and watch the magic happen.

You don't commission a hangarful of billboard campaigns to back it up.

I mean, obviously you do, because that seems to be what everyone does, but it's a bit crass isn't it? Sort of like hiring advertising space to tell everyone it's your birthday, because you're worried not enough people like or care about you enough to take note of the alert on Facebook.

It's bad enough when the ad basically says:
"Hey! Guys! Look what we did! Look what our guys did! This is awesome, huh? Imagine what this will do for the way you guys perceive our brand! I know, right?"
But this one actually says:

"We, British Petroleum - the oil and gas company most [in]famous (in recent years) for despoiling a massive ecosystem and by extension numerous large areas of outstanding natural beauty as a result of our (and by extension your) insatiable and gluttonous thirst for our planet's finite natural resources - are closely associated with an international competition to celebrate the physical capabilities of humankind via the media of sports; so much so, in fact, that we've extended the mixed metaphor to further embrace modish environmentalism - a school of thought which couldn't possibly be more directly opposed to our values, mission, and practice if we'd paid Nazi doctors to engineer it as such - and will now effectively sit here whistling with our hands in our pockets hoping you, our oil-guzzling, wind-breaking, seal-clubbing public have memories as short as the goldfish (or whatever they were) whose habitats' asses we went all Apocalyptica on a few seasons past: which is pretty damn short, because they're all dead. ENDS."

So, there won't be any carbon footprints at the London 2012 games.

But there might be some oily footprints over the conscience of everybody involved.

And there might be a shitload of unsustainable stadia in a part of London nobody will ever want to go to again, if indeed they can ever manage to get there in the first place - which is pretty damn difficult on a weekday afternoon, let alone the height of tourist season in the glut of a manic internationalist spectacle of PC body-fascism, empty gestures of cultural might and global corporate trash.

I don't care to learn the name of the heptathlete on the billboard up there because such things really don't interest me, but I hope the halo of BP-branded toxic illuminatum that follows her around everywhere she runs, jumps, swims or flings a spear, makes it all the easier for snipers to pick her off like the fly on the stool of humanity she is when people start caring enough about such things to become partisan to a civilisation that - on the basis of this bad-on-every-level advert - is entirely geared toward emulating cancer on a planetary scale.

Or, you know, just get their marker pens out and draw oily seals on whatever bit of Dover Beach that is...
"Where ignorant armies clash by night..."
Yours in manufactured rage,

A. Velky

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Bad Adverts: Nivea's Facebook Campaign and/or Existential Angst

I didn't rekindle my long-defunct personal blog with any particular agenda - just to see what I might blog about nowadays: to find out what interests me.

Apparently what interests me most is complaining about the billboards I see opposite the bit of the train station platform I stand on every morning at about 7:30 a.m. Who knew?

I just want to start this one off by conceding that, yeah, okay, this Nivea ad isn't the worst advert ever by any stretch of the imagination. And although billboards aren't quite clickable links yet (especially if they lack QR codes like this one), it does at least have a "call to action", which I gather is pretty big biz in the ad world right now.

Reminding one about a product or announcing a new line isn't enough; the in thing is to get your audience to do something.

As "your audience", there's nothing I resent more than the idea that I should be motivated to contribute to your ad campaign. I don't care how much you purport to value my opinion; I just want a memorable ad that I don't hate.

Unfortunately, Nivea's "100 Years of Nivea", "everything's great here in the future", "look at these insane women laughing" campaign is not that ad.

It presents a controversial (and somewhat depressing for a billboard) opinion about "closeness" (which is, I gather, an almost unbelievably tenuous connection to a product that makes your skin softer) - the sort of opinion proffered only by mad grannies who've alienated their extended families over years of intermittent neglect and neediness, and Douglas Coupland, who is universally ignored and/or derided by anyone over the age of 18 and beyond the year of 1999; who wrote a book called JPod and kept a straight face; who habitually writes lists for any websites that'll publish them about why everything will be even worse than it already is now by the time next year comes around.

Have your say. Defend us against this evil sentiment that directly contrasts with our brand values (for some obscure reason). Help us - the ad seems to say - reconcile a lifelong battle against the existential angst of the modern human condition with our range of anti-aging skincare products, because we sure as hell can't do it: it's impossible.

But it's not is it?

Afraid of growing old and dying alone? Use Nivea: it's like Facebook, but for your face.

There. I did it.

See how happy Svetlana and Maria are? They are positively manic. A little soft skin allows them to be so "close" to the world around them, in spite of the alienating influence of "the way we live" (whatever that means) that they sport what can only be unfortunately referred to as shit-eating grins whenever they walk down the street - even though, based on the evidence of this picture, they don't even know each other, or anyone else around them, and are just sauntering down the same street at the same moment, close to... death? orgasm? a nervous breakdown?

Svetlana and Maria are the poor infected extras in the backdrop to a stop-and-stare panel in a particularly grim Grant Morrison comic; some dystopian societal casualties frozen in a false and hollow ecstasy from which they long to escape. If they could talk, they would whimper "kill me".

In fact, they could be dead already; they could be the grinning corpses left by The Joker's victims in the darker Batman storylines.

Or, or, or... (I'm enjoying this) Edvard Munch's Screams having been reanimated and informed of the hilarious irony that they'd been appropriated for the branding of a godawful chain of failing student pubs.

Also, they're not even close: there's nothing about their skin going on here, or the skin cream; this is a Facebook advert. A Facebook advert calling on Nivea fans to defend Facebook from the sort of people who think Facebook is rubbish and cold and soul-sucking and false. Or, rather, to get people already on Facebook to like Nivea's page on Facebook so they can send them more adverts that will, presumably, contain at least some content that isn't entirely based around soliciting an undesired opinion on a topic far too complex to be dealt with on Nivea's Facebook wall - something like Rhianna in various states of undress (which, to be fair, you don't need to sign up to Nivea's Facebook page to have the exclusive rights to).

As I said, this isn't the worst advert ever, but I maintain that it's bad, because it's a transparent lure into a trap baited with nothing more than the promise of more ads. There's not even any bribery. The only discernible promise is that you can "have your say".

No doubt Nivea have some idea what they're doing online as well as off, (check our their weird and meticulously managed Wikipedia page), but this seems shallow to me, and a bit wide of the mark.

"Some say we're just not close anymore".

Nope - you're way off: "all watched over by skin creams of loving grace" just doesn't ring true.

Yours, wrong as always,

Alexander Velky


What seems to be George Pringle asking Douglas Coupland some questions not about moisturising (tenuous, I know, but it does reveal Doug would be a fan of the font in the above advert):

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Bad Adverts: Stella Artois' Cidre (Not Cider)

Back when I used to watch adverts on TV I seem to recall Stella Artois had pretty good ads.

They were stylised, filmic, narrative-based ads that - while never ringing true to the product I knew and didn't particularly love - had a classy feel to them: depicting scenes of French cinema heavily reminiscent of Claude Berri's excellent screen adaptations of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources - despite those stories being set in rural Provence: about 1,000 km south of Stella's Flemish homeland of Leuven.

And they traded - very successfully, it seems - on one of Stella's many weak points: its relatively high price.

"Reassuringly Expensive" was the memorable slogan, and it was used as a punchline to the many slightly disturbing vignettes of Français screwing each other over - lying, cheating and stealing - all to get a crisp, refreshing, delicious pint of Stella Artois: which - in the microcosm of that protracted ad campaign - was convincingly superior in taste to all other lagers: be they supermarket bulk-buys, or amber nectar foaming from the taps of rural French taverns.

Nowadays, having conquered the UK with the worst possible indication of what Belgian beer has to offer, Stella Artois are making a half-arsed play at the booming UK cider market, and - judging by the above billboard and others that preceded it - doing so with a cack-handed mix of their previous traditional French (because nobody understands Belgian identity, including Belgians) credentials, with a dash of misplaced superiority and/or condescension thrown in for good measure.

There's a woman riding a bike with a basketful of apples attached to it - exactly the kind of woman who would never ride a bike with a basketful of apples attached to it; she has teeth. There are arrows. Why are there arrows? Arrows are not an accepted form of punctuation. Other than this the design is pleasant and free from blame.

Moving on; Belgium and beer go together like European unity and bureaucracy. But if your brand primarily trades on masquerading as a culturally dominant neighbour - which it does, even if not consciously, even if those classic ads were set or filmed in Flemland - I would advise against playing on the perceived misplaced arrogance of said neighbour in relation to their increasingly un-international language.

French is only "the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union"*, and is on its way out as the 2nd language of English schools up and down the country in favour of German (more akin), Spanish (easier) and various dialects of Chinese (more useful).

Basing your campaign around the fact that you've spelt the English word "Cider" using the French form "Cidre" and seem unduly delighted about this completely uninteresting and undoubtedly-not-unique element of the dubious product you've magicked into existence is surely not a way to win over an audience (you, the British public) who are already over-subscribed with Magnerses, Gaymerses, Bulmerses, Strongbows, Blackthorns, and - for the even less discerning customer - Frosty Jacks, White Lightnings and Woodpeckers.

Come to think of it, obviously anyone who actually likes cider (or cidre, for that matter - I am aware they make shed-loads of it in Normandy and Brittany, although Belgian Trappist Cidre is not on my radar...) will not go near a Stella Artois branded attempt on its life with a six foot punt. And for those casual pub drinkers who go for the pub-peddled pints from the above list (be they bottled and iced or whatever), is there any need for further choice anxiety? A Stella (beer) drinker is unlikely to drop his reassuringly expensive gas-and-hops-and-piss for gas-and-apple-and-piss, so it must be that market they're trying to pilfer.

So this bad advert of aborted Franglais, with its presumably-equally-bad accompanying TV campaign that I haven't seen, is aimed squarely at the casual British cider lout, who is, as we all know, a massive racist. Good luck winning them over with caricatures of the historically-derided arrogance of their natural enemy, the French. Good luck trying to convince a demographic who don't want to be part of your continent that "continental" is better than their green and pleasant "countryside"

This thing not that thing. Yeah, I get it: it's a campaign. You can build on it. Only problem is, it's shit; you'd as well try and sell Yorkshire Tea to Sarah Palin, Irish Moss to the Irish, or golliwoggs to yardies.

Or Stella Artois (beer flavour, or cider flavour) to me.

They can't even decide how much French to use; there's obviously been a conversation about whether people will know "c'est" or "pas", and if not, whether they'll be able to guess from context, so a decision has been made to opt for:
"C'est Cidre ---> Not Cider"
A sentence nobody - French, English, or some unholy union betwixt the two - would ever use, with or without the bloody arrow.

Your irate billboard noticer,

Alexander Velky


Here's some Franglais I do like:

* Wikipedia - truth magnet.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Bad Adverts: Volvo's Sexy Cars

Saw this at the train station on the way to work this morning.

There's nothing good about it, obviously, but the greater part of the blame must lie with Volvo's copywriters.

"There's more to life than sexy cars. Wait a second, no there isn't" sounds like the sort of inane babble a cluster of sub-par 80s marketing men would exchange around a large plastic table long after the inspiration (and coke) had run out: that they thought was so great - such a eureka moment - that they simply had to let the public in on it.

It reads like placeholder text - vaguely summing up the message they want to send, but obviously not in its finished form yet; sorry, it's been a really hectic afternoon, &c., &c. It's the Red Toupée of Volvo ads.

(By which, non-Al Stewart fans, I mean it's a text composed of temporary doggerel allowed to slip through the net due to the writer's fondness for what they perceive to be its quirky charm. So sort of like what I said before, except that Al Stewart is an entertainer, not a salesman.)

On closer examination, the thing is inane, obtuse, stupid and depressing as well as lazy.

"There's more to life than sexy cars."

For a start off, this is a lazy, hackneyed phrase.

Secondly, who even said this? Nobody. For adverts to set up a counter-argument that doesn't exist without attributing it even to some imaginary voice is perverse. And don't even get me started on "sexy cars" - the phrase has no right to exist outside of pointed satires of maleness in the modern age, or, as I gather one particularly popular example of such a barbed and biting work is known, Top Gear.

Wrong! Volvo are apparently using it here without irony to describe the spotlit hunk of crap on the poster: the antithesis of "sexy", if, admittedly, probably, a car. It looks like it's about to burst into song: some sort of faux-opera; you know, like they have in the cartoons.

Even the sort of damaged individuals for whom the compound noun "sexy cars" does not induce confusion and/or nausea are highly unlikely to identify a Volvo as a likely culprit. Presumably this is an hugely unsuccessful attempt at a rebrand? Unless I've had Volvo pegged wrong all these years, which is entirely possible if this advert is indicative of the quality of their brand positioning.

"Wait a second, no there isn't."

Shit. My life is completely empty. Cars - which are meant to represent freedom and modernity and adventure and my cock, and all the rest of it - are simply another "sexy" accessory to my otherwise completely vapid and meaningless existence. Like a 12-bladed razor, or an X-rated tamagotchi.

"Wait a second, no there isn't" is the biggest kick in the nuts to the would-be Volvo buyer imaginable. This is it: this is the best you can do. A Volvo.

Not sexually attracted to this car? Well, good luck endlessly wandering the arid tundra of the rest of your life looking for a sense of belonging that is merely an illusory figment of your warped and deluded brain.

I'd love to hear from someone for whom this advert has worked (well, obviously I'd hate it - and they're probably too busy touching themselves up in the back seats of Volvos to comment - but hear me out), because to me it seems to be a half-baked, ill-judged, creative black hole misfiring blanks into the bemused faces of middle-aged commuters everywhere.

(But specifically in Poole in the case of the above billboard.)

Yours, doubtfully,

Alexander Velky


Bottom right corner: "Volvo. for life". Lazy to the point of arrogant, and blindingly obvious when naturally and immediately compared with its opposite (Volvo. for death), and nobody's going to dole out awards for linguistic innovation just because you felt you had the right not to capitalise that 'F'.


What sexy cars might sound like:

Friday, 27 May 2011


What remains?

The colours, to an extent; but they're now hexadecimally clearer.

The letters, no doubt, though an extra few are implicit now. If you like.

The font. Well, I might change that one day; one must always leave room for improvement, except in one's death rattle.

What's new? 

Turn symmetry. That's invaluable. People will be able to recognise my brand even when they're upside down - this will be essential for expansion into the Southern Hemisphere. There's also a touch of ambiguity, I feel: It's playful. It has levity. Like me.

The unity: one component is now the other.

What's gone? 

The overlap: the illusion. There is only clarity now. (Even if it's clear ambiguity.)

This is my new blog.


I look forward to looking forward.

Your host,

Alexander S. H. Velky