I have a lot of time for Martin Freeman. His everyman, underdog shtick has a real ring of authenticity and, as the most relatable man in most television series or films he’s in he’s a natural repository of good will and trust for the viewing public. Tim in The Office; John Watson in Sherlock; Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers; Bilbo Fucking Baggins… he’s always a bit nice, a bit awkward and so very human. He might as well have been walking around with a target painted on his back as far as advertising is concerned – hence this Vodafone advert.
I wrote an email to a Government agency a while ago, providing my advice on how to communicate important things (pensions, benefits – boring, awkward, difficult stuff to communicate in adverts) through the medium of television advertising, having been unimpressed by their over-complicated efforts.
The concept ran as such: if you need to tell the unwashed masses about something both dull and difficult – the switching off of the analogue system that was feared might result in thousands of grannies being unable to watch Countdown and not knowing why, for example – you do it as simply as possible. An example: Michael Parkinson, sat on a chair, a white background, explaining in white-hot Yorkshire common sense that you need to buy a Freeview box if you want to be able to continue watching Inspector Morse repeats for 18 hours a day.
For that demographic you could hardly do better than Parky – a man with a face like Harrogate toffee, a voice like warm beer and a presence like a crackling open fire. A man imbued with good humour and sincerity.
Martin Freeman is the Michael Parkinson of Generation X and Y, who have almost been trained to listen to what he says and silently root for him. Tim the Underdog, John the Underdog, Arthur the Underdog, Martin the Underdog. Slightly pained, put-upon – but we will always have his back. Because he’s you, me, us. We see Martin Freeman and we see ourselves. So if Martin Freeman has a Vodafone contract and wants to make lots of money through that association, who are we to judge?
For advertisers, Martin Freeman must be catnip – not for nothing is his voice lathered over TV adverts. Freeman is a precision-guided missile to your Trust Nodules, buried deep inside your Empathy Gland, just next to your Buying Synapses. It’s no surprise he’s in such demand from charities and political parties – it’s hard to think of anyone better who can convey the required feels.
In this context it’s clear why Freeman is a man in demand in advertising. And despite the ubiquity of his adverts, the frequency of them and – more often than not – the annoyingness of them, we can’t hold it against him.
For he is Martin Freeman. Bastard.