You know what was good about these PaddyPower adverts (that's the last time I've ever write that phrase)? The celebrities. They're unlikely; they've been out of the public eye for quite a while and they've somewhat gone to seed.
You know what else is good? They play up how strange - how disturbing, even - the unexpected appearances of Bruce Grobbelaar, Carlton Palmer and Des Walker are. They communicate odd messages about gambling, but there's another aspect to it as well; something unsettling about it all. They hapless punters on the receiving end of this unwanted attention look freaked out; frightened even.
You know what's good about these Santander adverts featuring Jenson Button, Jessica Ennis and Rory McIlroy popping up in unlikely situations to communicate odd messages about banking? None of the things I mentioned above. All of the same ingredients; none of the wit.
Here's how this could have been better: McIlroy talks to the bloke while he's on the bog. Ennis reaches around and helps the guy tug himself off over a basin. Button comes out of the wardrobe while the couple are having a blazing row about his infertility. In fact, that last one would be epic.
Having said all that, they still wouldn't be as good as the PaddyPower ads.
EDIT: In fact, the guy who Button first annoys is the bloke in the bath with Carlton palmer isn't he? The fucking nerve!
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.
This is my last word on PaddyPower - unless they bring out some more dog-whistling adverts - and I'm ending on a positive note.
You see, it is possible to make memorable, funny and not shit adverts based around betting. It was proven by none other than PaddyPower just a short three years ago, with a series of ads highlighting a money-back guarantee.
These are truly superb ads, genuinely funny and brilliantly observed. In the three below Carlton Palmer, Des Walker and Bruce Grobbelaar play it dead straight and all are afforded amusing lines, impeccably delivered totally deadpan (or, alternatively, all of them are so wooden they appear deadpan).
They aren't ironic and the reactions to all three sudden appearances by 80s and 90s footie stars - of total terror and bewilderment - make them both unsettling and wonderfully funny.
But there's more again. Grobbelaar's wobbly legs trademark, Palmer's sudden appearance below the water of a bath and Walker's surreal appearance, as if half centre back, half football shirt are very weird, which feels completely right for where these ads are.
Throw in the third-person dialogue - you can Carlton Palmer having a bath; put whisk down, Grobbelaar's here in peace; Desmond Sinclair Walker, 657 appearance, one goal - and you have a trio of very funny ads.
Good work by agency Karmarama, who don't have the Paddy Power brief anymore. Which is a shame, as there's genuine wit in the ads. Still, probably easier to poke fun at trannies and chavs eh?
I was looking up some old ads that PaddyPower did a couple of years ago, having been reminded of a good run of ads a few years ago that featured sporting types in unlikely situations.
Then I found this one on Youtube, an advert sees four guys in wheelchairs doing a runner from a curry house simply to set up a horribly lame scenario where an irate Indian man swears in Hindi at four paraplegics and calls them 'wheelies'. Just for a second you could almost imagine you're watching Love Thy Neighbour or some other openly offensive - and deeply shit - 70s sitcom.
It's titled 'Banned Paddy Power Ad' and the subhead is 'They wouldn't let us put this one on TV'. Well, with such dangerously radical material I'm not surprised The Man got his knickers in a twist, political correctness and health and safety and all.
"Not offensive, just shit!," says the first comment.
"What a shit advert...this shit isn't going viral lol," reads the second.
The ad has a ratio of exactly two Dislikes to every Like thus far. Which goes some way to restoring my faith in humanity. But confirms everything I'd previously suspected about PaddyPower.
Private Eye is, of course, excellent. It's a satirical and investigative and gossipy political mag in the UK that I've bought for years because it's irresistible, like an upmarket version of Heat for political / media geeks.
It has columns on lots of different things: advertising, railways, TV, books, the media, politics and so on. It also runs a column on advertising, Ad Nauseam, on advertising and shenanigans in the industry. I guess it's written by someone within - or previously within - the industry because whoever writes it certainly gets something of an inside track.
I was interested to read the following about Paddy Power and its recent run of ads, clearly intending to be controversial for the Hell of it, that culminated in the Gregos Traitorelli ad. I disliked this ad because it's so obviously intended to push the envelope of what's acceptable - along with all its other recent ads.
Lots of people have been leaving lots of witless 'get a sense of humour mate' comments that shows that they can't be arsed to actually think about the issues or they're too stupid to. The issue for me is this: deliberately courting controversy by flirting with offensive issues like race, class, animal cruelty and gender issues. I find it vaguely pathetic, in the way that I find it pathetic that largely middle-class journos write inflammatory stuff in the knowledge that thick readers get off an some casual racism or homophobia with a healthy side serving of big tits.
It plays people for being stupid. It works the system (in this case what's considered acceptable in the world of advertising) simply to gain a flash of notoriety. The Gregos Traitorelli ad is flirting with race issues to make you put a ten-pound bet on Balotelli scoring a goal.
But don't just take my word for it. Read what Private Eye has to say on the subject - and ask yourself is this is all quite as innocent as you might think.
Several companies have used an advertising strategy that involves goading regulators with risque ads to receive free publicity. Other advertisers end to loathe the self-styled mavericks, because they prove that adland's cosy self-regulatory system lacks teeth, thus threatening the whole edifice.
First French Connection was the bad boy, followed by Ryanair. Now it would appear bookmaker Paddy Power is taking up the mantle.
In late 2010 it ran a TV ad featuring blind footballers kicking a cat
. When that received more complaints than any other ad that year, the free publicity penny seems to have dropped. Since then the cheeky Irish pranksters have run topical ads featuring the footballer Luis Suarez after he received an eight-match ban for racial abuse; a spot entitled Lady's Day asking viewers to pick out the 'stallions' from the 'mares' at a race day; and an internet-only ad featuring a man shooting 'chavs' with a tranquiliser gun at the Cheltenham Festival.
Its latest spot features a man who placed a bet against his own team renaming himself Gregos Traitorelli, relocating to Greece and supporting a team called Athletico Kebab. You might expect this kind of stuff from Paddy Power by now, but its agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, should know better
Athletico Kebab? Hmm. Bit racist?
Maybe. Maybe not. Certainly shit though.
EDITED TO ADD: I've added the vids below to provide a bit of context for what plays out in the comments section. It's the deliberate courting of what's allowed - and what's acceptable to me - and what isn't in advertising in previous ads that leads me to questions PaddyPower's intentions in the Gregos Traitorelli ad.
EDITED TO ADD II:
Consider my case rested
So, how long will this one last? Ads that feature anything that even suggests animal cruelty is on thin ice, and liable to get banned in the end, just ask Ford - who actually decapitated a moggy in ads for the SportKa a few years ago.
Of course, the ad doesn't have the courage of its convictions. Despite telling us that there's nothing that can be done for Tiddles, we get a shot of the cat at the end of the ad that shows it to be fine. Curiously, I've not noticed this in the ads that have shown on TV though.
Either way, there'll be complaints, there'll be apologies and there'll be more media interest. Given that this ad is pretty irrelevant and generally uninspired - its enough to make you wonder why they went this this ad in the first place.