One small incident occurred today. It confirmed a suspicion that I've had about the glorious world of television advertising. In the grand scheme of things, it's not likely to impact on anyone's life that seriously. To me, it's just another sign that it'll be crassness and stupidity that will cause the end of the world, rather than a natural disaster. It's one of the reasons I wrote my last blog post about giving up on anyone over the age of about 40 and now look to the smart thinkers in their teens and twenties for inspiration. You can almost bet it was someone above the age of 40 that came up with my current upset.
Anyway, back to the small incident that I'm talking about. It's this bloke.
It was really easy to find a picture of him on Google. All I needed to write was "wonga bloke". In fact, I didn't even have to write that. I started typing "wonga" and "wonga bloke" was one of the first autocomplete suggestions. Why did I need a picture of him to illustrate this? Well, about eight months ago, I made the following observation on social networking. "Is it possible to hate someone on the basis of him saying 'WONGA' on a television advert?". It was one of those throwaway status updates or tweets that I didn't think much about. I was then greeted with a chorus of approval/disapproval/amusement from a lot of my friends. This was clearly something that a lot of other people had thought about. This unfortunately led me to my next thought.
If such a one-second clip can cause so much reflection (mostly of annoyance), what's the betting that this "wonga bloke" isn't made centrepiece of the advertising campaign in future? After all, a one-second clip of a man with a really irritating cockney accent had successfully upstaged the rest of the advertisement cast members. Sure enough, I found out today that "wonga bloke" has been made the mascot of the company, with "WONGA!" being the catchphrase.
We live in a world where much of advertising has given up trying to be creative and attractive. The days of British Telecom's technological sophistication and irreverant humour from last century or the marvellous Boddingtons ads of the late 1990s are no longer with us. Instead, we have the GoCompare, webuyanycar and the Halifax Radio ads. That last one has attracted the most derision, perhaps because it's symbolic of the way that finance company men are so utterly disconnected from the general populous, they don't even understand how humour works. However, after the hatred aimed at the original commercial launches, something interesting has occurred. Rather than just ditch the theme, companies like GoCompare, webuyanycar and Halifax Radio have realised they're reprehensible and have decided to pursue the irritating aspects of the original marketing campaign. If they can't make them attractively memorable, they figure, they can make them irritatingly memorable. It sometimes works. For example, the recent ads from webuyanycar are wilfully shite now, so they're now quite amusing. But Halifax Radio is still an abomination to me.
I tend to channel surf away from commercial breaks anyway, or just mute the sound, so I'm guessing that these adverts aren't supposed to appeal to me anyway. I'm assuming they're aimed at people who are too drunk or too lazy to run away from them, even though it's just a light touch to their remote control that will save them. Plus, I guess the irritating adverts aren't as bad as ones that are plain offensive (e.g. take a look at Tracy King's take on the Pepsi Max "rapey" adverts on the Skepchick website). I guess I also have more respect for the irritating adverts over the bland palatial commercials, such as every single car commercial you can think of. In fact, the only car adverts that stick in my head are the Renault Clio "Papa, Nicole" ones and that's only because they fall into the firm irritant camp again.
Modern day advertising is copying the very worst excesses of cheap throwaway pop music. I remember walking around an HMV on Edinburgh's Princes Street in the mid-1990s. One of the staff had a preview copy of something called "Barbie Girl" by a little-known group called Aqua and they proceeded to put it on the store stereo player. What came out of the loudspeakers was simultaneously the most annoying thing I'd ever heard, as well as the largest earworm in existence. It immediately squirmed itself inside my cerebellum. Maybe it was the helium hamster vocals, or the deep-throated sexual predator speech, but "Barbie Girl" savagely knocked aside the rather pleasant Travis song that had been resident in my brain at that point. It didn't stop me from leaving the store, but "Barbie Girl" never left me after that day. I made a bet that once it was officially released, "Barbie Girl" would race straight to the top of the charts, like an angry screaming baby booting the other toddlers out of the way. I was not wrong.
That's exactly what the "wonga bloke" is. It's marketing companies giving up on accessing the sophisticated frontal lobes, because that would involve proper research and work. Never mind trying to use surveys and careful methodical research to access peoples' multifacetted personalities. We're reaching the primeval aspects of someone's brain, the "fight or flight" parts of infantile development. "Wonga bloke" is the angry screaming baby we tried to run away from when we were in the cot. We were severely annoyed by the irritant, but we never forgot them.
Update 01/09/2011: Staggeringly, the advertisers are doing it again. This time, they've actually gone further and stopped me from buying a product that I used to buy on a fairly semi-regular basis. The Haribo commercial has succeeded in out-arseholing the Wonga advert and putting the GoCompare, webuyanycar and Halifax Radio adverts in the shade. Here's the Drum's take on the Haribo commercial.