On one of the coldest nights of the year, a large gathering of the Contemporaries came to enjoy phenomenal fish and chips, specialty British drinks, and a private screening of the best television advertisements of the year from across the pond. Or as the Brits say it, ad-ver-tis-ments.
In the US, we wait in anticipation for the Super Bowl commercials, but the Brits aim for a spot in this beloved lineup of bronze, silver, and gold annual awards. So while there are many funny ads, it does not cater to a specific audience, and those with serious messages to sell are also competitors. The length of these commercials can be extended in comparison to the typical 30-second or minute ad one watches at home in the States. This again allows a complex or intense message to be fully addressed, not shortchanged for airtime. It also allows amusing stories to develop into absolutely hilarious ones.
Right off the bat everyone was laughing from a commercial by Orange (a phone service) which combined the practice of over-the-top airport-like security with a movie theater setting. It was ridiculous, with dogs running in the theaters, popcorn everywhere, and the movies being disrupted — which was the point — but it allowed us as Americans to have a good laugh about the serious matter of security. Kevin Bacon soon made several appearances — and by several I mean literally multiple Bacons in one room! One of them was even cooking bacon… of course, it was Ren McCormack. The little details in these ads are what make them award winners, like when Bacon the astronaut from Apollo 13 attempts to drink coffee with his helmet on, but it’s quickly passed by to return to Ren dancing to his walkman.
Some of the ads, however, are less than subtle. Fosters made an appearance, like always, full of Aussies and beer. Then there were the adorable ones like Wheetabix and IKEA that told charming stories of parents and children functioning on a great breakfast or with the right furniture to play on. The nice fuzzy feelings were also present in several John Lewis advertisements, featuring a time-distant romance that tugged on the heart-strings while highlighting the quality of the brand over a century.
At times I was not quite sure what angle a company was going for, but perhaps I’m just the wrong audience for Axe advertisements. Maybe epic stories of boyfriends surviving “harrowing” social situations while a deep voice narrates the scene makes you want to run off and buy a body wash called “Cool Metal” or “Rise,” but I’m good without. On the opposite end, however, Guinness’ ad kept us confused while we watched a group of young men being carefully herded by a border collie, until the very end where we had a collective “aha!” moment and a good chuckle. Acer Incorporated’s take on Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer from 24 was also quite good, translating his passion on the clock to creating the best pastry possible.
Yet the stars of the evening were the PSAs, a serious and rather graphic addition to the lineup. Some became squeamish watching footage of shark cruelty and mutilation for shark fin soup, but everyone stopped breathing during Samusocial International’s interactive online ad for women’s shelters and website awomansnightmare.com. In this advocacy ad for homeless relief and safety, a woman asks for a cigarette on the street but ends up running for her life. If the viewer shares the video, it ends well, if not… Reality again is not spared in a PSA for first aid knowledge, comparing deaths by cancer to those of choking in a cinematic story of life and death. The ad of the year is empowering as it is difficult, showcasing British paralympic athletes as superhumans who have overcome life-altering accidents and abnormalities to redefine strength and what it is to be human.
As Americans we often tire of a constant barrage of commercials and advertisements around every corner, but this hour of film is less about selling something and more about quality stories — and is not to be missed.