Have you noticed the amounts of Hollywood celebrities in adverts recently? Not just film trailers or transatlantic airways or American banks and all that jazz; not Victor Kiam. I'm talking bona fide Hollywood legends knowingly advertising utter shit in exchange for cold, hard cash and a significant hit to their credibility.
It's currently possible to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicole Kidman, Harvey Keitel and a raft of silver-screen legends debasing themselves in the bit between repeats of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on ITV56 every Tuesday afternoon. In exchange for yet another mansion - or a year's worth of fuelling a Lear jet - they appear in these parochial, ironic and very shit adverts for products as pitiful as insurance, price-comparison websites and bread. Often sending up themselves - or the roles for which they're known. In British adverts for British brands.
This tells us many things. One, most celebrities are utterly shameless. Two, there must be a hell of a lot of cash flowing through the coffers of these companies. Three, there's a very good reason they're coming over here, rather than doing it on their native TV networks, to do it.
In years gone by Sylvester Stallone, Snoop Dogg, Al Pacino, Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Willis have also made the trip over the water. Or have they? In many cases, probably not, but there's a calculation going on here - a calculation that suggests the shame of patronising this shit is worth the money if you only damage your street cred in a faraway land.
In years gone by it was known as Japandering - whoring yourself for cash in foreign lands on the basis that none of your white, English-speaking fans would ever see you humiliate yourself. Here's a good example: Schwarzenegger, one of the biggest movie draws of the 80s, appearing in a fucking bonkers Japanese advert for an energy drink at the height of his fame.
There are various degrees of awfulness and contempt to these adverts, but no-one comes out with much credit. Apart from a couple million more in the bank. One thing I am certain of is that we haven't seen the last of Hollywood celebrities in British adverts. They'll be back. Oh yes, they'll be back.
Harvey Keitel / Winston Wolfe Direct Line adverts
Harvey Keitel is a funny one. Here is a man who has has authenticity coming out of his arse. Born to immigrant parents who ran a restaurant in Brooklyn; a veteran; taught to act by Strasbourg; long associations with Scorsese and Tarantino; earned his stripes with against-type portrayals in films by Jane Campion and Abel Ferrara; acted under De Palma, Coppola and Scott; a peer of De Niro, Pacino and Nicholson - a quartet of actors you could argue have formed the bedrock of some of the most acclaimed and successful films of several recent decades; one of Hollywood's most iconic tough guys of the last 40 years. He must be fucking minted.
And yet he is happy to collect a cheque in which he shits all over one of his most iconic roles in a film directed by his protege, Quentin Tarantino. I happen to think that Tarantino is vastly overrated as a director, but popular opinion and celluloid consensus is against me: Pulp Fiction is a classic, the film's fixer, Winston Wolfe, is an icon and Keitel is one of the coolest character actors in modern Hollywood.
Which makes it all the more bizarre that he's prepared to spray that film and his own reputation with whippet shit. Keitel not only riffs on his image from the film as a mob fixer but repeats phrases and set-ups in the adverts, extricating Direct Line customers from minor scrapes with recourse to an insurance company. Or does he? Perhaps he really is going to shoot a lot of people in the head in order to remedy these prangs, leaks and boiler repairs. And surely Direct Line aren't equating home insurance with illegal racketeering?
Al Pacino and Bruce Willis Sky adverts
Seeing this pair advertise Sky in their inevitably half-hearted styles is sad as much as anything. Pacino once smouldered with intensity; Willis a wise-cracking everyman. Nowadays they look tired, used up, bored to tears by everything they do - including these embarrassing Sky adverts, in which they inevitably come up against some dopey, star-struck, weird-looking Brits.
Pacino actually references the fact that he might keel over at any second. And Willis taking one of them home to fuck does not make it any less sad. Indeed, after half an hour of trying to get it up and failing it probably serves to enhance the innate tragedy.
Harrison Ford Sky advert
This is, at least, not wholly embarrassing for Ford - and at least it's not inserting him into some drab domestic situation and asking him to make a fool of himself. But he just looks so very tired, as if all he wants to do is lie down and go to sleep. The man who played Han Solo, Rick Deckard and Indiana Jones looks more likely to doze off and start snoring halfway through a movie than be a kid again.
I find the overt wielding of cash fairly vulgar in this instance too. Sky, Virgin, Netflix, BT and the rest hurl around utterly vast sums of money in an effort to increase their share of the cash you allocate towards making your snoozy nights on the sofa that little bit more bearable. Lulling you into a soporific stupor as they lift another £80 monthly fee out of your bank account. We're slaves to our tellies in this way and these box-set wielding behemoths are our masters.
That they can spend these shit-tonnes of cash to convince more and more people to watch slightly differing shades of glossy, largely braindead television is one of the more sinister facets of our modern society. Oh, look, Game Of Thrones. A child being burned to death. LOL!
Sylvester Stallone Warburton's adverts
This the one that take the floppy, rubbery, processed-flour cake. Tory donors Warburton's offer up a grisly concoction of Chairman Jonathan Warburton and dough-faced Hollywood punchbag Sylvester Stallone engaging in an unlikely conversation about bread. For more background on this I urge you to read this apparently serious interview with the bread impresario, in which he voices his disbelief that Alastair Cook didn't realise supermarket bread was fresh.
I suppose it's something to be grateful for that Stallone didn't rape Rocky in earning his filthy lucre. And a soldier with PTSD massacring Muslims probably wouldn't play too well in Bolton, so they've plumped for a thinly-veiled Expendables pastiche. A mass-murdering mercenary, then, was deemed an appropriate character to base the advert around. Yet the odd smart visual gag can't rescue the fact that this is just horrible - a patronising, badly-acted and fundamentally dishonest advert about bread that votes for David Cameron.
Snoop Dogg / MoneySupermarket adverts
Gangsta rap's whole ethos is an expression of the desire for money and power - and ability to express both in the most vulgar way possible - so it's no surprise Snoop is prepared to eat shit in exchange for lots of The Benjamins.
The idea that saving money on a price-comparison site is somehow equatable to doing burnouts in low-riders and twerking with a bunch of honeyz is surely one that resonated with the Essex-dwelling C2s that make up MoneySupermarket's core demographic too.
John Cleese / Specsavers advert
It gives me no pleasure but say it, but it's precisely 28 years since John Cleese was last funny. In the same way that most musicians outlive their sell-by dates, churning out forgettable music by muscle-memory rather for any especially noble reason, many comedians start a low slide into irrelevance around middle age.
Fawlty Towers will always remain a landmark in comedy - and Cleese will rightly be lauded for his work - but this advert is just rather sad, for lots of reasons. It's impossible to link Cleese-Now with Cleese-Then, as a result this is simply the equivalent of acting karaoke by an old man who bears a passing resemblance to Basil Fawlty. Cleese must have been offered a tonne of cash for this - as he must have been hundreds of times over the last 30 years - and claims that he acceded this time because he thought it was funny. But it isn't.
Neither Cleese nor Specsavers come out with any credit. For the latter this is simply an opportunity to keep a tired joke going by besmirching the memory of a comedy classic. For the former, a million quid.
Nicole Kidman CompareTheMarket adverts
In my mind's eye Kidman gets booked in for a day of soul-destroying shit one every couple of months. She does a few voiceovers for adverts (probably those ones where radio stations can bag a bespoke mention), takes part in a few round-table interviews in which unlucky journos are allowed to ask one question each about her new film no-one gives a fuck about and spends two hours talking to a CGI meerkat. For this day's work she bags, ooh, let's say $1m. Then she goes home and devours the soul of a maid whose name she's never really known.
Put all that to one side and you have someone who's been rich, successful and acclaimed for almost 30 years. Humiliating herself for money in a market she's calculated cannot damage her fame or professional standing. Perhaps the lack of nobility about the whole shouldn't surprise us - but it's worth remembering that while your man on the street might think it a bit of fun, the very existence of these adverts shows us what these celebrities, agencies and brands really think of us.
It's a curiosity of our time that ad mascots have taken on a life of their own, with families, jobs, motivations and desires. True, most of them are determined to save us money but the price-comparison mascot insanity has reached its apotheosis with a character from the CompareTheMarket adverts being metaphorically killed off during a Christmas Day ad break. So much so that some poor chap from Coronation Street was pressed into writing a quote comparing a CGI Russian infant meerkat to Hilda Ogden.
A few years ago, when the industry - certainly the ad campaigns - were relatively new I conducted a poll to see which adverts people preferred, from a list that included Omid Djalili (then fronting Money Supermarket ads as HaggleHero), the laughable Cara Confused, original viewer-bothering Gio Compario and Aleksandr Orlov, the meerkat. The latter was the runaway winner, so it should come as no surprise that he's the only survivor of the class of 2011.
It's interesting - and instructive - that most of the adverts I embedded back then have been deleted or removed by the official Youtube accounts of the respective comparison sites. Ad mascots have the lifespan of a mayfly and, after they've been disposed with, it's as if their former champions are somehow embarrassed by them - in the way that you might de-tag yourself from the pictures of an ex you'd rather not be associated with.
In the case of Confused.com I'm sure that's the case with Cara (now retired to Barbados, apparently - probably in the same way that Edward VIII was sent off to some remote colony), an in-house creation who had jiggling breasts, a magic vagina, swivel-eyed followers and starred in a set of adverts that just baffled the hell out of viewers. In the end, inevitably, they did the sensible thing and opted for bringing an agency onboard.
Meanwhile MoneySupermarket has never really settled on a theme or coherent message - I'm uncertain when the this is a deliberate choice and I'm also unsure whether this is a good idea. The meerkats stagger on, but I sense their end may not be far off. Perhaps the expense of a rebrand and the money you have to chuck at them suggests it's not worth the effort - if it ain't broke, why fix it? - but in the fickle world of advertising loyalties can change quickly. What is certain, when you compare them to the class of 2011, is how much more sophisticated they are.
Normally the idea of this website is to go for the jugular, but in this case I think asking for favourites provides more of an insight. Either way, I'm throwing it out to the floor - which is the best price-comparison site advert? You tell me.
Go Compare - Go Go Power
With comparison-crazed tenor Gio Compario put out to pasture, Go Compare's offerings have morphed into a team (Mick, Mike, Glynn, Leo and Julie) that live in an (unpronounceable - surely not a good thing?) Aardman-animation style Welsh town and are determined to safe you money while ticking demographic boxes. Price-comparison sites are stratifying their offerings into house, car and pet insurance these days so expect more of this sort of thing going forward as the gang get into crazy scrapes and dear God make it stop already.
What they say
“Over the last year we have introduced audiences to the various characters who live and work in the Llandofsavingmoney, all of whom specialise in finding people the right deals on various insurance, money and energy products. With this advert we want to bring them all together and demonstrate how, as a team, all of us at Gocompare.com work harder to help our customers.”
"Gocompare.com is dedicated to going the extra mile for its customers and we wanted this campaign to reflect that through the characters who live in LlandofsavingmoneyandgettingtherightdealgogoGoCompare. They’re the super heroes of price comparison.”
CompareTheMarket - Farewell Baby Oleg
Still no sign of this thoroughly shagged-out series coming to an end, though Baby Oleg stayed with the rest of the Meerkat Manor troupe on Christmas Day. You can still get one of the sodding toys if you buy car or home insurance – or switch energy – through CompareTheMarket though. Or get fifty quid by doing it through Quidco. Props to CompareTheMarket for including a homosexual family unit as the stars of their ads, mind.
What they say
In “Farewell”, Sergei and Aleksandr bid a tearful goodbye to Baby Oleg, exactly twelve months after he first landed on their doorstep. Oleg, who has found his true home with his fellow meerkats, will be staying in Africa, while Aleksandr and Sergei return to Meerkovo.
MoneySupermarket - Epic Elephunk
Having dispensed with Snoop Dogg, Patrick Stewart and Omid Djalili, we've now got a talking be-afro'd baby, a giant CGI elephant and some recognisable funk – MoneySupermarket's new ads are a bit throw-everything-at-the-wall and that's never that memorable, despite claims of epicness. Apparently Graeme is here to stay though and we're being asked to name him elephant. I vote Dumbo.
What they say
“We play an important role in saving households as much money as possible and our ad campaigns strive to show how epic it is to save with us. In Graeme’s case, this feeling propels him to take the wheel aboard an enormous African elephant as he dances through the streets of New York in the glare of dumbfounded drivers. It continues the fun and uplifting element of our previous campaigns and should encourage the nation to keep saving on their bills with us and feel great about it.”
“Our ambition was simple: to make the most epic MoneySuperMarket film yet. To achieve that we turned to some key ingredients. We took the badass swagger of Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction, the strut of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, a sprinkle of Michael Jackson in Billie Jean, served with the Single Ladies attitude of Beyoncé - and channelled them all into a 15ft African Bull Elephant and a slightly fat bloke from Coventry. We still can't believe that we get paid to do this for a living.”
Confused.com - Brian Gets Captured
While Brian isn't interrupting dogging anymore this ad seems to be fairly openly ripping off Short Circuit 2, which isn't a bad thing. We've also got a squadron of robot mates (The Herberts), who can be hived off into their requisite house/car/pet/energy silos. Repeated surveys show there's a powerful recall for these series of ads, which isn't especially surprising given that most of the adverts consist of the mascot interrupting blowjobs or simply repeating the URL over and over.
What they say
"This is an exciting new chapter in the Brian the Robot story. We are delighted to introduce the Herberts, Brian’s team of sidekicks, to the British public. We are looking forward to an eventful year ahead as the Herberts and Brian’s story unfolds."