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."
For those of you who are regular readers, keep taking the medication. But thanks for coming back to the site after it was laid low by a malware attack that I eventually traced back to the servers of a shadowy cabal of ad execs who get together once a week to snort coke off the body of a dead hooker.
Anyway, all of that meant that I couldn't do my usual round-up of the year's worst adverts. Which was a shame, but also kinda appropriate. Because I don't think there was a single 'worst advert' last year. Why? Because the worst advert of 2012 wasn't an advert. It was an idea.
This whole site is based on a kinda overplayed hyperbole, which can be roughly - and I hope not entirely accurately - summed up as 'this advert makes me want to kill myself - and other people'. Of course they do no such thing, but many adverts do make me feel annoyed, irritable and a little bit helpless.
And this is the point of the new generation of adverts. Liking these new adverts is no good at all. Being amused by them or finding them cute isn't enough. Being able to ignore them is a disaster. Being angered; being physically affected by these spots isn't just a happy by-product, it's the very raison d'etre: the hot flush of annoyance, the raised heart rate, the merciless vomiting and the Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Just think about that for a while. The point of adverts is to persuade you to do something you might not otherwise do. To part with your money in such a way that benefits someone else. On a personal level this sort of transaction might be represented by asking a friend or family member to loan you a few quid, after buttering them up with a few well-chosen words.
Or head to a job interview and lie about how great you are, all the time smiling, grinning, nodding at the endless bullshit spewing out of everyone's mouths and shaking hands while dying inside. And what if you want to convince your partner to do something they might not do otherwise? Needless to say, chances are you'll do a lot more than shake hands.
This is all part and parcel of the way we lead our lives, as human beings and as animals. It's a basic transaction in life. Heck, if my cat wants something he starts rubbing himself up against me. But imagine if all of these transactions were solicited in another fashion.
I don't buy my mate a pint before asking him if he can advance me £50, I punch him in the face. I don't praise a potential employer's workflow system, I piss in his amusing Simpsons mug. My missus kicks me in the knackers and my cat claws me in the eye.
We wouldn't put up with any of these interactions, let along smilingly hand over our cash, job or bacon rind. Yet that's what we do every day when these 30-second adverts are beamed into our minds with the explicit intention of upsetting us. Where does this end? Unskipabble Confused.com adverts on the start of DVDs? Gio Compario popping up on cinema screens? Rickrolling by Barry Scott?
I don't know, but I do know this. Efforts to piss you off will only increase. And all the technical weapons that are available will be deployed. Email, mobile, behavioural targeting, contextual ads and whatever the current conglomeration of web/streaming/TV and on-demand turns into.
The reason for this is that there are now adverts whose only point is to make you aware of a service. Not like it, not appreciate the quality of it, not have any loyalty towards it – simply know of its existence. It doesn't matter if you hate it; in fact, it's better if you hate it.
This is why the likes of Confused.com can launch stupefyingly bad adverts at us that are both horribly annoying and objectively shite without it making a shred of difference. It's why Go Compare is inflicting some smugly reflexive adverts about its own awfulness on us. And why the meerkat and its spin-offs are everywhere - even breaking out into the real world in the shape of dolls and - for the love of everything that is good - books.
Along with MoneySupermarket, these services are identical. They do exactly the same things, with literally nothing to differentiate on from the other. Coke and Pepsi; Sky and Virgin, Ford and Vauxhall. All of them emphasise why they're different and better than the other. The comparison services do not care about such things. Awareness is the only factor.
This nascent tactic is gaining ground among betting websites, where there is similarly nothing meaningful to separate most companies. PaddyPower has ditched its amusing adverts promoting money-back bets and opted for a dog-whistling adverts that skirt the borders of animal cruelty and various unpleasant bigotries. The Ladbrokes one with the idiotic Chris Kamara (LOL! Legend!) just has a bloke screaming at the TV for most of its duration.
This is because these companies want to be at the forefront of your mind when you make some soul-crushingly banal life decision such as "I'm going to start betting on the internet" - the sort of decision that indicates that you've probably given up on life and settled for a warm, unthreatening existence of DVD box-sets, football, pizzas, wanking on the sofa and worrying about immigration.
Need car insurance? Write down what initially comes into your head. Blocked sink? Inexplicable desire to place a bet on the Stoke / Sunderland game? What did you write? I bet, to your surprise or horror, that you were able to immediately jot down a few brand names you didn't even know were swimming around in your grey matter. Your own personal spam software isn't working anymore - you turned it off without even knowing it.
Advertisers will do anything to get in your head. And your slavery to the television opens the door to them. When idiots complain about the licence fee and profess that the other channels are 'free' just think about this spirit-killing exchange we make in order to get our 'free television'. This is where our witless defence of the right to choose has led us – a cowed acceptance of brainwashing; complicity in our own alienation, exploitation and subjugation. The tyranny of choice has never been so clear.
If the current state of affairs has taught us anything, it's that we can't be trusted to make our own decisions. If you want a vision of the future imagine a stupefied man drowning in pizza boxes, coke cans and Pringles tubes, the reflection of a Confused.com advert dancing in his eyes, forever.
This is the future we've chosen; it's the one we deserve. Happy New Year.