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."
Well, well, well.
It seems that many people, rather than being touched by Sainsburys' advert about the Christmas Truce, thought it was the worst advert of the year. I've explained previously why I thought so when it originally came out and in the end-of-the-year round-up, so I'm not going to repeat myself.
Suffice to say, I do hope this misadventure is the last we see of appalling moments in history being used to flog goods. And to anyone who wants to take this up with me, I offer the following question: In what way would it be worse to use 9/11 as a backdrop for advertising a supermarket in a similar idiom?
Of the other top three competing to be named worst advert of 2014, I was surprised but heartened to see Gladstone Brookes ranking highly. This aggravating, openly aggressive and hideously ubiquitous advert was like an aggressive fungus spreading across television screens in 2014. The product they were advertising? Charging you a wedge for the sake of sending out a templated letter.
There's something offensive in a vaguely Dickensian way about that and while I'm sure their terrible advert played a part, I think the number of votes indicates that readers felt similarly about Gladstone Brookes' business methods.
Hive rounds off the top three and was winning this poll for a fortnight or so. There was no more aggravating noise in 2014 than this ghastly, twee, try-hard ditty that sounds like it was sung in a shed by a man wearing a stupid pom-pom hat, drinking cloudy cider and thinks Ed Sheeran is the last word in cool music. From everyone in the world, Hive, I beg you to fuck right off.
The rest of the poll
I loved how Wonga spectacularly imploded this year, with their ads disappearing from screens as the company underwent a lengthly self-flagellation, execs were defenestrated and they admitted they'd lent money to people who wouldn't be able to repay their loans in a million years. This was particularly satisfying as Wonga have made a habit of popping up on this blog over the years to complain that I've misrepresented them.
My big problem with the actual adverts is that they turn the serious business of borrowing money into some insane, infantilised pantomime - it's a smoking gun, as far as I'm concerned, as to Wonga's real market and in pulling these ads, they've admitted as much.
Hotels4U, another ad that simply vanished as quickly as it appeared, is the only advert I've ever seen that made me fear for the safety of the actors it featured. Their Twitter account reads: "If you love #hotels & high quality television adverts then you've come to the right place!".
While not in any way offensive or annoying, the Co-Op advert smacked of a company that simply doesn't know what it's about anymore. The fact that an agency made this ad and the client signed it off is, frankly, a disastrous mistake by everyone concerned.
Will this be the year that Andrex stops trying to sell us their wet wipes? I don't know, but I do hope it's the year they stop telling us that they're safe to flush. Especially as there's a full ad campaign by water companies specifically designed to refute this claim. Where next for this lengthy campaign which seems determined to make us discuss faeces?
I'm not sure there's much less to say about the remainder, other than how appallig they are. What I can guarantee is this: CompareTheMarket isn't going anywhere, despite being the most overstayed welcome since Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy; Sky Sports will continue to pretend that football matter, when it doesn't fucking matter one bit; Apple will continue to be smug; beards will continue to be appropriated by fuckwits; cheese strings will remain vile in every respect and that we will never escape The Redknapps.
Happy New Year.
There were plenty of votes for other adverts readers hated, including lots (excluded here) that simply aaid 'all of them'.
Mostly good choices on the whole, though I can't agree with the Singing Toys advert. Even though I couldn't tell you what it was advertising if I had a gun to my head, it was one of the best of the year for my money. I actually wrote to the makers of the ad to see if they'd let me have the wonky owl, but they never replied to me.
Natwest - 3 votes
Gala Bingo - 3 votes
Paddy Power - 2 votes
Singing toys - 2 votes
Oak Furniture Land - 1 vote
Carphone Warehouse - 1 vote
Sensodyne Toothpaste - 1 vote
Paypal - 2 votes
Bet 365 - 1 vote
Cadbury Xmas - 1 vote
Coral Windows Radio Advert - 1 vote
Vistaprint - 1 vote
John Lewis - 1 vote
Chloe Perfume - 1 vote
Argos - 1 vote
Go Compare - 1 vote
Vanarama - 1 vote
Famous Grouse - 1 vote
First4Lawyers - 1 vote
MyMate - 1 vote
Renault Zoe - 1 vote