The Stupid Dad meme started to gain traction in the 90's, when notions of sexism eventually caught up with the ad industry.
Even in the 80's women could be portrayed as fairly stupid without a hint of irony, but by the last decade of the 20th century chauvinism went the way of smoking adverts, the Hofmeister bear and chimps forced to drink tea.
I'm sure if you go back far enough and look long enough there are ads that are explicitly racist and homophobic too, but nowadays it's really only men who get it in the neck in ads.
Sure, you can make all sorts of arguments about the male gaze with no little basis, but women are off-limits to the ad creative if you want to make someone look clumsy, oafish or generally the butt of a joke.
The Stupid Dad has several key characteristics. Generally it pays to have a Stupid Dad with a regional accent. This makes the Stupid Dad look more stupid.
He must be obviously middle-aged, balding or bald, fat, decidedly stupid and unashamedly emasculated. Every Stupid Dad has clearly been castrated by his wife. Perhaps from time to time the kids taunt the Stupid Dad by throwing his unattached testicles to each other while he looks on haplessly.
Another key trait is that the Dad must be made to look stupid in the advert, preferably by his wife or small kids. This usually occurs when the Dad ridicules the product being sold. This reinforces the idea that to not buy this product you must be a bit of an arsehead.
There are several adverts that currently subscribe to the Stupid Dad meme: the Sainsburys Pork Chilli ad; some Butlins ads from about a year ago; and some ads that seem to be trying to encourage some vague form of environmentalism.
Probably the most offensive version of the Stupid Dad meme is a Somerfield advert from late 2007. Here, John is made out to be a complete duffer and publicly humiliated by his wife, Rose, for forgetting some groceries. The pair have now left our screens, probably due to the fact that John eventually snaps and stoves Rose's head in with a frozen leg of lamb.
The Stupid Dad meme is a funny one. I don't subscribe to the idea that the only persecuted demographic in the UK is the white working-class male, usually an excuse for racists to bemoan the fact that they're not alone to say n*****, but try putting any ethnic minority, child, woman, OAP, homosexual or otherwise-abled person in the Stupid Dad role and there'd be mayhem.
It's a curious, if fairly harmless, double standard that rather seems to reflect the way the middle-aged man is shaping up in society. Beyond their procreational use they're permanently bemused, technophobic, balless, sad and despised. The real role of the Stupid Dad is simply to be utterly redundant.
I hate Dylan, and I hate adverts for banks.
The only thing blowing in the wind here is the flatulence of the whole affair. The advert is 150 seconds long, for fuck's sake. Ten would be enough to convey the message behind this dumb hippy shit that simply ticks all the formulaic boxes with robotic accuracy.
Young tousled-mop hair boy, fantastical idealised version of Britain, recognisable public monuments, wind farms, melting glaciers, noble foreign folk – check, check, check...
It's sad really, because the Co-op really does have something to shout about, its ethical investments policy for one.
The fact that this ad marries a dozen trite middle-class cliches shouldn't really detract from the company's laudable core values, but I defy anyone to watch it without feeling like they've been smugged to death by mung beans, joss sticks, The Independent on sodding Sunday, the Toyota bloody Prius and Bob Fucking Dylan.
In the latest in a long line of deeply-stupid finger-in-dam moves, music companies have started to withold permission for their songs being played on Youtube, even if the audio is married to a different visual. So you can't actually hear the soundtrack on this ad, which is Blowin' in the Wind. Small mercies, and all that.
It may seem a little churlish to complain about the absurdly macho Gillete Phenom adverts. Absurdly macho ads have been, after all, the traditional stock-in trade of razor adverts, beer adverts, lad-mag adverts and those adverts for burgers you can cook in the microwave in a minute.
Macho is their raison d'etre and their demographic. Thus the association with motorbikes, gorgeous hot babes and, particularly, sport in razor ads. If you have a smooth face chicks will dig you and men will envy and respect you.
So it's not good enough simply to denounce the Gillette efforts as AdTurds on that basis. No, it's the terrible CGI and bizarre awkward vaguely homo-erotic nature of the supposed friendship between Thierry Henry, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods in these adverts that launches them into the stratosphere of truly shit ads.
It's said that you can never have a beer commercial featuring only two blokes sitting in the pub. Why? Because they might be gay, and that's a big no-no if you're shilling beer, lads mags or microwaveable burgers. And especially razors.
Unfortunately the strange chemistry between the trio in the Gillette ads does nothing to discourage the suggestion that the three men are not homosexuals. Instead, it looks like they're about to start daisy-chaining.
Thierry Henry is famously intelligent and charismatic; Roger Federer may as well be a garden rake he's so devoid of character; and Tiger Woods is an odd looking man with a reputation for being intense and difficult.
Gillette's attempt to introduce an element of slapstick physical humour between these three men may qualify as one of the strangest decisions in all of advertising.
Henry, Woods and Federer are – or have been – three men pretty much at the top of their professions throughout the decade, and their chins are fantastically smooth. But their reinvention as a modern-day version of the Three Stooges is as inexplicable as it's unsuccessful.
I have a love-hate relationship with Apple products. Although I'm typing this on a much-loved iBook G4, I happen to think I may be a mug for buying into the Apple brand and its overpriced, poseurish tendencies. Moreover, their recent adverts are really, really annoying.
This is largely down to the voiceover, which adopts a perpetually surprised tone and follows a simplistic, smug and mildly condescending script. (If one were inclined to cynicism, one might observe that these traits are similar to those exhibited by people you vaguely know who come up to you in pubs and demonstrate the capability of their iPhones.)
Which brings us on to the new MacBook advert, which, Apple voiceover man seems surprised to discover, is
Our greenest MacBook ever.
How come? Well, this wonder product has
an advanced aluminium and glass enclosure
can run on a quarter of the power of a single lightbulb.
What stands out, however, is the claim that the computer is made
without some environmental toxins.
The word "some" is inexplicably mumbled. In fact, you have to listen twice to pick it up at all. So what Apple are saying is that although the new MacBook is fabulously green, technically advanced and highly recyclable it, um... does contain some environmental toxins.
What a load of shit.
The Halifax, in case you hadn't noticed, is part of HBOS. That's right, you know, the thoroughly buggered up financial institution that revealed losses of £10 billion earlier this week. At this sort of level, the numbers become unimaginable and thus kind of irrelevant. And the word "losses" is used in a literal sense. As in: We have no fucking idea where it's gone.
I'm not sure about you but I can barely think of a better way to convey this frightening image of utter financial frivolousness within a bank than an advert that shows the staff of that bank randomly handing out five-pound notes to members of the public.
Thankfully for the purposes of this blog, the latest Halifax advert goes precisely down this route, which reminded me a bit of this early 1990s video of pop/art pranksters the KLF burning a million quid.
The advert retains the well-known and long-established Halifax motif of lots of people coming together into a wacky shape. But whereas it used to be an excited gathering of expensive extras with no discernible purpose or relevance, the people are all now coded as benevolent Halifax staff.
The point, to reiterate, seems to be that the bank's staff will climb over and on top of each other in order to give away money. Luckily there's a glaringly obvious nu-folk soundtrack to soften these troublesome images. But ultimately it doesn't work. Basically, it's another shit advert.
Okay, first up an admission. This advert is not shit, it's quite the opposite and although I intended to focus squarely on adverts that are shit – AdTurds if you will – I think it's good to occasionally give an example of an advert that is not shit.
If you've been more preoccupied with slamming the BBC or laughing at Todd Carty recently, you may have failed to notice that the world's entire economy is sliding into a deep depression.
Maybe, like me, you prefer not to think about the ramifications this involves as the prospect is simply too terrifying.
I really don't think anyone quite grasps what this might spell for us over the next few years and I'm not sure why.
It's certainly not through lack of information and analysis, you can't turn on the television without Robert Peston lounging around like he owns the BBC telling us how great he is and, incidentally, how we're all fucked.
The internet has exploded, news runs for 24 hours a day and every man and his dog is blogging furiously on the subject like modern-day Solomons. So how come no-one is bothered about the approaching economic doomsday?
I can only assume that the airwaves and micro filaments are so crammed with doom that people have become inured to it. I've seen videos on the internet of people being killed, and they were followed by a string of comments from bored viewers casually discussing the minutiae of proceedings. I felt sick for a week.
The telecommunications explosion was supposed to liberate, empower and educate us. It's simply dulled our wits and emotions. So it takes an advert that's either willing to push taste and sense to the extremes to make us sit up and take notice, or an advert that's so powerful in concept and execution that we can't help but be impressed.
All of which brings me to Shelter's new appeal, an ad which I've yet to see on TV but has been doing the rounds on various PR blogs for some time. With a soundtrack by Radiohead – a first incidentally – it was never likely to be a laughfest, but I think this advert is the most startling 60 seconds I've ever seen.
In the 80's in took this John Hurt-voiced ad to actually ram home the idea that you could catch a horrible, lethal illness simply by having sex. It was terrifying stuff, though it was hardly subtle.
Neither is the Shelter ad, the evocation of 9/11 is hard to avoid, but the experience is much more insidious.
The flawless CGI, the camera's initially-startled gaze, the pan out to a crumbling landscape and the soft voiceover by Samantha Morton combine to make the whole experience deeply unsettling.
It's a soft sell, but the message is unequivocal.
Shelter's ad is the AIDS advert of its day. You can take all the blogs, all the editorial and analysis, all the graphs and photos of despairing traders and boarded-up Woolies.
The first time people see this advert is the first time most will come face-to-face with the tangible consequences of what all those electronic balance sheets mean in the real world. And it's quite terrifying.
Wouldn't it be great to replicate a three-minute video screen on a computer with real people, a few bits of paper and a trampoline?
The people would bounce up and down with cards on their heads; others would paint in a gradual progress bar across the bottom; tickertape would cascade down from the ceiling, replicating SFX.
It will look amazing, but it's all done in one take without one single special effect. It's a great idea, difficult to pull off, but all the more impressive for it.
In the same way that Honda's Cog would have been utterly pointless if there had been the slightest hint of cheating, any advert employing the trampoline technique using even a squidge of CGI would be a waste of everyone's time.
The technique was originally used by Roel Wouters in a a series of videos for an installation.
Inevitably it was picked up by an ad wonk and reused to shill something. In this case it was the Fiat Grande Punto – a nifty little car that looks like a Maserati, if you work for Fiat's marketing department – under the slogan 'Engineered to Entertain'.
You can probably guess what comes next. The Fiat ad remains remarkably faithful to the original, until about 30 seconds when a Punto is dropped onto the trampoline.
But Fiat actually went to the trouble of dropping a car on the trampoline, which is pretty impressive. So everyone's happy then? Well, not, because the car then proceeds to perform several more bounces, a triple salchow and a back-flip in a big jizz of CGI.
It's utterly stupid, pointless, mystifying and enraging and renders everything that's gone on previously a complete waste of time, all the while thumbing its nose at the original ad. If you're actually going to drop a car on a trampoline why not make that the centrepiece?
Were the creatives behind this stupid, or simply not bothered? It's hard to tell, but instead of being quite cool, this advert is simply shit.
Peugeot has had a mild rebrand of late, with its DRIVESEXY ad campaign for its 107, 207 and 308 models.
In the ad for the 207 Verve this is manifested by a pair of blowjob lips enunciating the 'Peu-geot' name in a sexy voice. And that's about it – it's not bad, it's just a bit meh.
Off the TV there's some even more baffling press materials detailing the idea behind DRIVESEXY (the car industry loves its RANDOM CAPS).
It’s about being chivalrous and magnanimous, not difficult and obstructive. It’s not testosterone-fuelled, it’s not macho posturing, it’s about being in touch with your sensual side - feeling the road and taking the time to appreciate your surroundings.
The campaign entails smiling at other drivers, waving at traffic wardens and not using a map or satnav, otherwise known as DRIVELOST.
It's the sort of meaningless drivel that no-one in their right mind takes seriously and for some reason PRs love. Driving sexy also means not wasting fuel – DRIVEECONOMICALLY – and not drinking and driving – DRIVELEGALLY.
Frankly it's just awful. Peugeots are, actually, fairly sexy when you compare them to other cars on the market but I'm not sure that the looming global recession and a hugely depressed car industry demand a new ad campaign advising you to flirt with other motorists.
Rumours that BMW may follow suit with a campaign called DRIVELIKEAPRICK are totally made up.
Gary Rhodes is on a mission. A mission to convince people that a crappy margarine product tastes marginally better than awful. He goes around in a camper van, giving people Flora Buttery and recording their suppressed grimaces.
This advert goes down the slightly taboo route of naming a competitor. It's an approach that tends to antagonise the competitor in question for obvious reasons. In this particular case, the competitor is Lurpak Lighter Spreadable and the advert follows a Pepsi Challenge sort of pattern, comparing reactions to both products.
The advert concludes that
More people preferred the taste of Flora Buttery
This is probably a fair point if you're comparing the taste of Flora Buttery with uranium, or Benalyn, or dog shit, but slightly less fair in the case of Lurpak Spreadable. Because the small print says this:
Out of 200 people tested, 48% preferred Flora Buttery Taste, 45% Lurpak Lighter Spreadable, 7% had no preference.
In other words, the Flora Buttery people happily admit that from their own sample (200), the majority of people (104) actually preferred Lurpak Lighter Spreadable or had no preference than expressed a preference from their own product (96).
I like Gary Rhodes. He's a fine chef and seems like a nice bloke. But this advert is shit.
There comes a time in every thrusting new internet start-up's life when it has do ditch its desperate, cheap, attention-grabbing campaign and rebrand itself as warm, cosy, non-threatening and decidedly middle-class.
This means that its ads go from the television equivalent of someone slamming a can of tizer in your face before spraying its contents into your eyes, to a cup of unpleasantly milky and sugary tea – not as immediately annoying but guaranteed to have you feeling decidedly queasy after a time.
This brings me to Confused.com's new friendlyeasywelcoming adverts, which evince a definite effort to position the company as a non-threatening mainstream brand.
This means lots of normal-looking people talking about how friendlyeasywelcoming the new site is, as if anyone really looks at a website and bases their judgement on its quality by how 'friendly' it looks. The BBC has a long way to go by this standard.
"Oh, it's recording!" is how things kick off, with a young man with an emo haircut feigning surprise that his camcorder is working. This, apparently, is AmazingPhil. AmazingPhil has a successful Youtube channel where he talks about his life.
This means that there isn't really any attempt on the part of Confused.com to pretend that these are actual customers. Phil bookends the advert by the drawing a smiley face on his hand and making a 'ta-da' noise. He may not be a complete prick, but that's certainly the impression given by the advert.
Elsewhere in the ad a variety of target demographics repeat words discovered by a focus group to be important to people searching for car insurance comparison sites on the internet, hence friendlyeasywelcoming. The overall effect is like drowning in Horlicks. Tellingly Confused.com has disabled ratings on its Youtube video.
Unfortunately while Confused.com, GoCompare.com and MoneySupermarket.com have all gone for the same approach, ComparetheMarket.com has thrown a massive spanner into the works by creating a campaign that is both funny and memorable in their CompareTheMeerkat.com ads, blowing the others out of the water.
Confused.com has immediately responded with an unfunny new advert featuring a small blob of rubber called Confucius. It's a weak comeback when faced with Aleksandr the Meerkat, but it doesn't make me want to kill AmazingPhil.