Thursday, 12 July 2012

Bad Adverts — Racist Squash and Poo-in-a-Boat, or Why I hate the Olympics

No amount of familiarity with the brand that was universally derided upon its launch is breeding anything in my brain but further  faster, harder, stronger, more tumescent  contempt.

I was always likely to hate the ad-frenzy surrounding the Olympics anyway, because I'm a miserable sod who is bored by televised competitive sporting events, except on those rare occasions when I can pretend it has some higher allegorical significance than I know it really has. And this is no such occasion.

The London 2012 Olympic branding is a snapshot of a blink-of-an-eye era of bizarre nouveau-eighties/nineties design: a sort of new-rave mistake that's achieved the previously unthinkable feat of pissing off self-appointed design critics nationwide and, erm, the Islamic Republic of Iran in equal measures.

The wind changed, and we're stuck with it.

But far worse than anything the people responsible for the event itself could cook up is the cavalcade of loosely tied-in crap that makes up the piggyback ad campaigns of the official sponsors.

At least the cynical cash-ins of the unofficial sponsors are unintentionally funny. Like Subway with their Z-list celebs, training hard and eating shit with some of the least healthy fast food the USA can muster, and boxing, basketballing and pole vaulting (yeah, bloody pole vaulting of all things) their way to mediocrity.

But there's something truly, supremely ghastly in the self-satisfied circle-jerk of the Official Sponsors' output. It's like they really haven't tried. They don't care. They're official so they know they're the best. The rest writes itself, right?


I've noted the sponsorship = concept foible before, as I'm sure have many more serious bloggers. But this time it's gone postal. They're so bad they're not even funny.

Rather than giving them the undue honour of an exhaustive list  and, let's face it, there are probably at least a hundred examples of bad Olympic ads  I thought I'd single out the couple I have really noticed: the two pitiful examples of imagination-free boilerplate dross and, respectively, bizarre and ill-advised flights of wimsy that have assaulted me over recent weeks on my daily commute. As is often the case, they're billboards.

So, the dross first.

Vitamin Water / Racist Squash

"Worldwide partner and best mate."

Because there's no friendship without the exchange of contracts.

This is one of those hot new energy water things that's basically branded squash, but posing as something that operates on a much higher plane: a veritable mesospheric nectar of the gods. Special squash, if you will. And if you won't, that's probably why I wasn't hired for this campaign.

(It's officially not nutritious mind you.)

Their unique spin on this whole Olympics thing is obviously that Olympians drink this special squash to make them better at running, jumping, whacking balls, chucking objects and brushing furiously at artificial ice with specially designed brooms.

I'll buy that. The pitch; not the product, obviously: the product is an even more pointless thing than bottled water. At least bottled water is useful where no bugger will provide you with filtered water out of a tap for free, which ought by now to be a human right. This stuff is just for people who want squash on the go but can't be bothered to think ahead. I have no place in my world for such people.

No, my real problem with this though is that they've plagiarized the BNP's logo. And that's just not cricket. Is cricket an Olympic sport? Who knows? Who cares? All I know is that Racist Squash is a first, and probably a last, on the billboards of Dorset and Hampshire. And I'll have none of it.

EDF / Poo-in-a-Boat

Second up, and last  lest we get too carried away  is secretly French EDF's poo-in-a-boat billboard, which presumably ties in with a much grander poo-in-a-boat campaign, with a poo-in-a-boat backstory and poo-in-a-boat tone of voice.

But let's just deal with one mistake at a time, shall we, and look at the billboard, which is what looks at us while we wait for our trains, which have been made late by the rain, which was sent by God to prove how much he's already bloody bored to tears by the Olympics.

How we've come to live in a world where something as oblique as "energy" needs branding is beyond me. But then, so many things are, so let's get on with it.

This poo-in-a-boat is sailing for some distant shore and has some characteristically modish copy (with full stops where other punctuation points ought to be) nestled in the corner.

This is what I think about what it says. What it says neatly sums up their main message in two easy-to-digest and entirely unconvincing snippets, needlessly separated by a full stop. Then it says "relax". Like, hey, we didn't even need a third thing. Get over it.

But nobody cares what I think about what it says  even less than they care about what I think of anything else, which is already very little. And this is at least partly because there's a poo-in-a-boat in the middle of the picture.

Show me a poo-in-a-boat most days of the week and I'll do nowt but shrug. I might shake my head at you, or tell you to bugger off if I'm in a particularly bad mood. But show me a poo-in-a-boat while you're trying to sell me energy  in a non-consumable capacity, at that: not even in a can or a fat sandwich or a bottle of special racist squash or anything  and I'll actually be less likely to buy energy from you than I'll be to buy it from any given unbranded non-official Olympic sponsoring competitor of yours.

Go a step further, if you've the temerity, and show me a poo-in-a-boat with an Olympic logo in the corner, and then what do you think's going to happen?

Well, all I'm going to have in my head is Paula Radcliffe pooing on the side of the road in the name of athletic endeavors: pooing on the side of the road like there's no reason not to and jogging on to win or come fifth or whatever it was in the race or marathon or whatever it was (who even cares?) and just shrugging her shoulders and saying "I think it was the tuna", like that's how we deal with having pooed on the side of the road  and not just the side of a quiet country road, but a big important road that everyone's watching you run down and filming you running down and filming you pooing on.

And I've heard it opined that Ms Radcliffe is a great athlete and it's a shame that she'll forever be remembered by most of the bastard public (of whom I stand up and count myself as one) as that woman that pooed on the road because, let's face it, most of us don't give a good God-damn who runs where and how fast they go. Good luck to them. That's their hobby. Glad they're free to do it.

But pooing on the road? That's something I do care about and, coincidentally, I'm dead against it. I dont think anyone should poo on the road in a country where effluent disposal areas are called "public conveniences" for a bloody reason; and much less do I think that if they do  and then run off nonchalantly saying "maybe it was the tuna"  that they should have the luxury to be remembered primarily for something else that they did on that day or on any other.

But that's just my opinion. Nobody cares about that, and why should they? We've all got one and most of them stink, etc.

What I do care about as a proud footsoldier in the ad industry is that some genius at EDF thinks it's a good idea to take Paula's stool and recast it. Up there on the billboard, no longer is her poo an abandoned embarrassment of a poo at the side of the road to athletic achievement; now it's the hero of the story: sailing from the water's edge of ambition to the far shore of accomplishment. The poo in a boat that could; the poo in a boat that did.

And I know this is that self same poo because even though at first glance it looks like a healthy solid sort of poo, you soon notice the moist point at its head, where its mother anus birthed it, that betrays its position on the Bristol Scale: it's a 4, deep down, even though it may look like a 2 or a 3. And this is exactly the sort of poo produced by a long-distance runner if they've eaten more than they should (or else what they should not) have the night before.

Racist-pilferers and poo-apologists, the lot of them.

And so, EDF and Vitamin Water exemplify all that I find distasteful about professional sport: that I am expected to have more respect for a human being, in this day and age, because they can run faster than me, or swing more gracefully than me, or throw an object at a more careful angle than me.

Newsflash: We outran all our predators years ago, folks. We invented cars.

And even our computer screens are rarely so heavy nowadays that one needs a person of unusually great strength, for example a Russian body-builder, to lift them.

Nobody has truly needed to throw a javelin, or a hammer, or a discus exceptionally far since the invention of nuclear ballistics.

The great achievements of our age are not of the body. They are of the mind. It's taken us years to get here: to the place where Stephen Hawking has more societal worth than any given cage fighter. And you lot with your gung-ho, poo-in-a-boat spirit would rob us of that achievement.

Female athletes strive hard to become the best woman at any given event: exerting themselves beyond most people's imaginations' bounds just to be second to men in the only thing in the world that men will ever have a guaranteed natural advantage in — coincidentally the only thing that matters less and less with every passing day in the civilized world: physical strength.

You lot with your racist squash would have us believe the measure of a great nation is not its contributions to art, to literature, to science; to furthering the cause of world peace, or to tackling the cruel disparity in the distribution of our planet's resources. You'd have us believe greatness is measured in kilograms, in metres, in minutes, seconds, milliseconds; in arbitrary numbers on white bits of cardboard held up to quantify a display of synchronized swimming that could — perhaps, at a push — but for its dogged and dumb desire to please, perhaps also be thought of as art.

And you're wrong. And you know you're wrong. And you hate yourself for it.

Which is why you can't wait to buy my poetry collection which will be published in December for the very reasonable price of £9.95, and which is current and relevant and important (much more important than sport) and which is a much greater achievement than anything sponsored by McDonalds or EDF, and which cannot be measured — no matter how you might try — in kilograms, in metres, in minutes; or in arbitrary numbers on white bits of card.

Got that?


In the meantime, though, if you want to hire me for my creative copywriting skills — second only to my poetry skills and curling skills — DM me on Twitter.

Your bemused pedestrian and cultural cog,


Amazing photos by me. Main image: "Sex Olympics" by Zef Cherry-Kynaston.