Ads treat us like kids
You’re small and helpless. Buy our stuff
The concept of neoteny proclaims that the human is a mutation of an immature chimp. Rather than us being the superior evolved being, we are the chimps that haven’t fully developed.
Advertisers certainly seem to think so. A rash of childish, patronising animation dominates our screens. Myriad infantile mascots – on four and two legs – are jostling for space in our minds.
These ads assume the consumer is unformed and uninformed, needing a benevolent service provider, a surrogate parent, an uber-adult, or even a galactic fairy to sort out everything from home maintenance to investments.
In the British Gas Warm and Working campaign, a virtual penguin seeks heat in a house. Ahhh. But penguins mostly like cold.
In the A Team set of British Gas ads, cartoon gas engineers are depicted with overblown juvenile faces. They don’t appear to have strength in their spindly limbs to join pipes or know how to defend the van against marauding parking wardens or clear up penguin mess.
A grown-up job is portrayed as child’s play and worse still the ad seems to insinuate the consumer is happy employing an immature chimp-person. The implication: we shouldn’t bother our monkey brains with anything technical or hazardous, instead handing this tiresome work over together with a subscription of bananas.
The great adman David Ogilvy once said: “The consumer is not a moron.” He could have easily said: “The consumer is not a child.” Whatever. No one listened.
Creatives treat us like fools. A recent howler is the commercial for a CiF cleaning product. This involves magic cleaning by a cartoon princess with much swirling and purple. On the plus side, there are no animals.
Ickle, wickle, twickle
The quality of the production of this and the many other animated ads is sublime. You can’t knock the artistry, which lovingly creates all kinds of characters from silent stick people with babyish faces, exaggerated furry creatures to fantasy landscapes in flawless format. So lovely to look at. Distinctive imagery with no substance merges into one huge, colourful homogeny.
Maybe this trend will peter out after every possible mascot has been claimed. EDF’s latest animation scrapes the bottom of the barrel.
It’s called Zingy, which makes you feel sorry for it. It’s a featureless flesh coloured whatsit. Zingy represents a fixed price energy deal. It’s a mystery as to the workings of the minds of all concerned.
Zingy’s company is supposed to be building a nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point, Somerset. The little creature will then glow a ghostly lime green in the dark and grow two heads.
As if we haven’t suffered enough with the visuals, the soundtrack is also annoying. Always a twee little theme tune, a tingly jingly ditty de-dah-de-dah-de-da… and the soothing voice of mother. Seriously, we are not toddlers in need of a lullaby.
Lloyds TSB’s For the Journey campaign in 2007 had a huge influence with its patronising visuals and jingly ditties. It follows the lives of a couple of stick people with cute long pointy noses from youthful marriage proposal through their ickle lives and quaintly olde-worlde dwellings to old age in granny specs.
It features train journeys, so no hope of control or self-determination there. They look small and vulnerable in a bewildering, futuristic world. Was the bank’s message: ‘We are big and you are helpless so trust us’?
Very Cute Inc. (Grand Cayman)
When a man offers you a selfie stick in the street you know what you’re buying. When a sentimental stick person meanders through a vague narrative or a meerkat goes on safari who can remember what the point is or even what the brand is?
The animal mascot arms race and lack of rigour produces tragic results. In an ad for SSE, an orangutan – an endangered creature – is projected as a lost soul wandering a glass and concrete jungle. It’s heart-breaking.
Never work with animals or children, they used to say. Now they say: only work with animals and the child-like.
Maybe ads do reflect contemporary life and times. Perhaps grown-ups really want to hide under nanny’s escapist apron. Or powerful corporations think they look softer in fantasy worlds. It’s anyone’s guess.
Or, I’m totally missing the point. Maybe these ads are actually aimed at children and they are either pestering for CiF or a mortgage. Maybe they are home alone running things and the adults have left the building dressed in monkey onesies, playing de-dah-de-dah-de-dah tunes on their phones and waving selfie sticks.