Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beauty is exuberance

I had dinner with my mother last night - as I sat down she thrust into my a hand a post-it note with the name "Barney Roundtree" written on it, and provided an incoherent account of a programme she'd heard on Radio 4 about advertising, something to do with Y-fronts and brain imaging. The restaurant was showing Al-Jazeera's coverage of the war in Gaza on a huge flat-screen TV, so the conversation was punctuated by the sound of explosions and screaming. After some confused discussion it became clear she was talking about the second part of the series "The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Clothes On". It was of special interest to my mother as she is a world-renowned lobotomist (some of my earliest memories involve having metal pads attached to my body, which grew intensely hot or intensely cold, whereupon I had to report the sensation registered to a group of scientists) and it is a continual source of disappointment to her I didn't follow her into the family profession. And here was "Barney Roundtree" talking about selling Y-fronts and brain imaging, like the two things were more or less two sides of the same biscuit. Hence her excitement. Though it may have been the war.

I dutifully listened to the program on the BBC. And first, can I just say, who doesn't want to be "Barney Roundtree", doyen of Campaign, The Sartorialist and Radio 4? What a dude.

The other thing that caused me to prick up my ears was his description of the Peacock's Tail theory of advertising - being that consumers trust brands that appear to waste money beautifully and plentifully, and that this, in evolutionary terms, suggests that the brand has excellent genes. This sounds to me rather like someone has picked up the wrong end of Bataille's Accursed Share - why attach the idea of genetic utility, just 'cause you're mates with Richard Dawkins? What does it mean, afford to waste? That you have an excess, that more than enough is an indicator of just enough? And if it does mean you have good genes, good genes so you can do what? Breed away the waste?

Waste is attractive in itself and that's where it stops. You're only trapped in brain-loop otherwise.

I'm training myself not to say things like this in meetings.

It also included an extremely interesting analysis of Sony "Balls". I know I'm occasionally disparaging about things Argentine, but I must admit a grudging respect for Juan Cabral - not that my good-opinion of him counts for fuck all. There is something so centrally weird about all his scripts, I reckon they are all about inevitability. So "Gorilla" is about a gorilla playing the drums - only it's not, it's about a gorilla not playing the drums for most of the spot. Or "Trucks" is about a race - only it's not about a race, we never see the end of the race, only the start. Or "Balls" is about balls bouncing down a hill - but they never reach the bottom - they just must go down. It's in the closing of the circuit that we register pleasure I think. It's very hard to write scripts like these, I have tried based on this principle, but it requires an arrangement of very few elements that I imagine is something like what certain abstract artists do.

In fact the thing in "Balls" that "Barney Roundtree" said really lights up peoples' brains is the frog in the pipe, which is wonderful.

In a Q&A I once asked Tony Davidson about the moustache in the "Impossible Dream" spot. To me the moustache seemed so key, it makes the whole thing. He looked slightly bemused and just said, "Oh the guy just had a moustache, so we told him to keep it."


Anonymous said...

i liked the tashe too, thought it was very terry richardson

Client-side said...

Very interesting to hear about the Peacock’s Tail theory. I’ve just come out of a research presentation about what makes ‘the youth’ (as if they’re an entirely different species) trust brands. All very logical (good experiences with a brand increases trust - no sh*t) except that Sony was the number one trusted brand.

I doubt many of Sony’s customers are below 20yrs of age (they haven’t made a dent in the ipod market, they don’t make computers and their TVs cost a fortune), so how have all these youth had such great experiences with Sony? I think it’s far more to do with their recent advertising and the sensation that “Sony must be good if they can afford to run ads like this”.

At least that was my theory this morning and now you’ve told me about the peacocks I’m convinced.

PH said...

Personally, I'd take it all with a pinch of salt. How many 'youngsters' did they interview? Was it prompted brand recall or not? Etc etc

Scamp said...

Davidson is wrong. You are right.

Gordon Comstock said...

In fairness, he did also say, "and it went with the 70s styling in the brands heritage that I'm trying to bring back." I suppose it just shows that what's crucial to others may not be so important to you, so it's worth letting a little bit of the universe in.

neil christie said...

There is a practical reason for the moustache. It was important that you could recognise it was the same guy in different vehicles on a single journey and the BACC required us to have him wearing a helmet in certain sequences. The moustache helped to establish continuity because it was visible despite the helmet obscuring his face.