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."
Is it that time again? It scarcely seems five minutes since I was last wading through the dreck of another year's worst adverts. Already it's time to list the worst adverts of 2014. So, what's changed over the last year?
For me there have been two noticeable trends. Firstly we're seeing the bar being lowered ever further, as TV advertising becomes more affordable to smaller businesses. This has inevitably resulted in adverts that are truly abysmal, usually relying on a cover of a popular song with the brand name sung over the top of it - or merely inept, ill-conceived adverts acted badly and boasting some of the worst production values since Eldorado was last on television.
Secondly, we've seen something of a decline in the mind-drilling, dog-whistling exercises in simply being memorable - at least by the likes of gambling and price-comparison companies: Go Compare has retired Welsh tenor Gio Compario; Confused.com has ditched its hapless and rather pitiful in-house Cara Confused nonsense; Paddy Power seems to have reined in its openly dog-whistling adverts; Ladbrokes seems to have distanced itself from its Lad Banter idiom of the last few years. Once again, it's reasonably safe to switch over to the commercial channels without hovering over the Mute button.
We've also seen the complete disappearance of my long-time bete noir, Wonga.com, which has retreated from television advertising like a celebrity tit-feeler seeking asylum in a home-counties pile, ensconced behind big iron gates and stewing in resentment at being caught out.
All of which might leave material thin on the ground, you might think. Not a bit of it. 2014 has given us bad adverts in a range of colours and textures. Some are inept, some badly misjudged, some insulting, some tired, some simply annoying - others are actively offensive.
Getting angry at the television is among life's most futile pursuits. But there's so much to get angry about, whether it's impotent fury at an annoying jingle, distaste at using war to shift stock or the terrible sense of doom one gets when watching people fight over discounted tablets.
The turbo capitalism that now dictates how we live forces us to reassess the role of marketing and advertising in encouraging us to spend, consume and fundamentally to live beyond our means. And the way we consume and the way we live is, if you dwell on it for any amount of time, terrifying. Whether adverts are a cause, a symptom or somewhere in-between is up for debate, but in such a world it so often feels as if going mad is the only way of staying sane.
The Worst Adverts Of 2014
A horrible appropriation of death, mayhem and suffering in search of increased market share.
I'm still waiting for someone to explain why using 9/11 as a backdrop to an advert would be worse than this. Why? Because it wouldn't.
So earnest it makes Black Narcissus look like Hollyoaks, starring a man who appears to be a South African Bond villain.
Bullets. Ink. What? Inexplicable.
Not annoying, not offensive, not even particularly bad. Just puzzling. How does depilation make you more successful, carefree, stressless - fundamentally more complete as a human being? Answer it doesn't. But Wilkinson Sword is keen to have you believe it does. Just as everyone who works in advertising seems to be keen that we all see the Redknapp clan on our commercial breaks as often as is feasible.
I have a theory that Harry Redknapp isn't Jamie's Dad; he's a Dorian-esque attic portrait who's gone rogue and developed a life of his own. It's the only possible explanation, when you think about it. As for Louise, a robot I should imagine. A man who's done a deal with the devil, his animated, droopy alter ego and his robot wife. I digress, but that's literally what the Redknapps are.
A lesson in how even the most imaginative, engaging and amusing campaign can become an exercise in diminished returns. These days the meerkat adverts - now numbering over 40 - appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season. If only they could all get bitten by cobras. Yes, even Baby Oleg.
If ever an advert came close to bullying it's this egregious and ubiquitous effort from modern-day ambulance-chasers Gladstone Brookes. It's not simply the insistence, it's the way it actively berates you. Like a child demanding you buy it a tillside Wispa – and looking you in the eye and telling you you're a failure as a parent.
Well fuck you, Gladstone Brookes, from every last person in the country.
The thing is, I can understand this and, in a way, I applaud this effort by Apple, which normally sticks to being as insufferably smug as possible. I like adverts that mash up a load of unlikely sources, dig out some obscure stuff from the archives and create something new and brilliant. Hell, my favourite advert ever - one of my favourite things ever - does exactly this.
Volkswagen's Night Driving advert from a few years ago combines Richard Burton's growling narration of Under Milk Wood, adds Cliff Martinez's ethereal soundtrack from Soderbergh's Solaris and lays them over some beautiful visuals. It's almost enough to make me interested in a Volkswagen Golf.
In the same way that curation isn't simply hanging a load of pictures on a wall, creating something new out of old ingredients is a serious skill. And it nearly works here - it really does. That song is intriguing and unforgettable and kinda glorious. But, at the last minute, it splits like a sauce; separates like oil and water.
Close, but no cigar. And after a few viewings the Chicken Fat advert simply became aggravating. Such a fine line between startling success and ignoble failure. Sadly, after a fortnight of seeing this ad the only running I was doing was out of the room whenever I heard the opening bars. Truth be told I probably creaked slowly to my feet, exhaled for a few seconds then hobbled towards the door at 1mph, but you get the picture.
This repeated attempt by Andrex to make us buy their ridiculous wet wipes has already seen Dawn Porter basically harrassing members of the public in their workplace shitters - now it's time for Ariel Free to make actors talk about faeces while eating chocolate cake in a cafe. In the meantime, something interesting has happened.
Suddenly I've noticed a carpet-bombing campaign by the private companies who run our water utilities pleading with us not to flush Andrex's 'flushable' wet wipes down the toilets as they, er, collapse sewers. So, ironically, these Andrex Washlets adverts aren't just really shit, they're actively responsible for human waste bubbling up through the drains, across your garden and in through your back door. Thanks Andrex.
An advert so purely infuriating it genuinely made me fear for the safety of the actors involved. This seemed to be on televisions constantly - and then not at all. Probably for the best - as I noted at the time no-one wanted to see they guy in this ad thrashed to within an inch of his life while some yobs yelled "Anything for you, cupcake!" at him in a Brummie accent, all the time raining down blows of ad-inspired fury.
Hive represents a growing trend in adverts over the last year or so - the fey, affected 'look-at-me-I'm-normal' style of ad narration that wants to be your best friend. The thing is, I can scarcely think of anything more annoying than this try-hard form of delivery with its kooky, faux-naturalistic lyrics that try to make us believe that controlling your heating via mobile phone app is a paradigm shift.
The only way I can get through this ad is by imagining each verse ending with an agonised "Owwwwwwwww!" as someone kicks the gas-loving songsmith in the nuts.
I don't know how to say this, but... football doesn't matter. It actually doesn't matter at all. It's not important. And if you think it is you've basically been brainwashed.
Carpets are more important than football. Woodlice are more important than football. Black holes are more important that football. Cochineal is more important than football. Suplhur is more important than football. The A19 is more important that football. Gamma waves are more important that football. K9, the robot dog from Doctor Who, is more important than football. Holly Willoughby is more important than football. Cheese is more important than football. Ealing comedies are more important than football. Eating with your mouth closed is more important than football. Cosmology is more important that football. Lollipops are more important than football. Narwhals are important than football.
Football doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter.
This is the only way I want to see this cheddary twat portrayed on my tellybox from now on.
I hate beards. I've worn a beard - on and off - since I was about 19, in strict defiance of prevailing trends and the express desires of Wilkinson Sword. It's not really a statement of any sort, more of an unwillingness to drag sharp metal across my face every day, or have a shaver nip hairs out of my unprotected neck every 24 hours. But I'm seriously considering shaving off my beard. Why? Because of twats like the Cuprinol man.
We're at peak beard. Beards are being culturally appropriated by idiots - this miniaturised, airborn paintophilic being a case in point. Whenever a big-bootied Jamaican dancehall queen looks at Miley Cyrus, I bet she feels like this.
I liked it better when beards were a sign that you were, unashamedly, A Man. Either that or a signal that you Couldn't Be Arsed. No grooming, no beard oil, no stupid moustaches or silly hats in wanky bars. Just a load of hair on your face. Not a sign that you thought Ed Fucking Sheeran was the last word in cool music.
Shoot this face-hair traitor out of the sky already.
I honestly feel as if I beat Wonga. I feel like I drove them into the sea with the power of my rhetoric and it was as if everyone suddenly realised I was right along – even Wonga – and I was (metaphorically) paraded through the streets on the shoulders of the Financial Conduct Authority while Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert gave me a massage and Matt Alright from Rogue Traders gave me a thumbs-up.
I beat Wonga. It was all me. Like Christ twatting the money lenders. Like Moriarty going over the Reichenbach Falls. I was right all along and now it's all down to me that Wonga has been comprehensively fucked up.
I BEAT WONGA.
• Want more? Read the lists from previous years...