Have you noticed the amounts of Hollywood celebrities in adverts recently? Not just film trailers or transatlantic airways or American banks and all that jazz; not Victor Kiam. I'm talking bona fide Hollywood legends knowingly advertising utter shit in exchange for cold, hard cash and a significant hit to their credibility.
It's currently possible to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicole Kidman, Harvey Keitel and a raft of silver-screen legends debasing themselves in the bit between repeats of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on ITV56 every Tuesday afternoon. In exchange for yet another mansion - or a year's worth of fuelling a Lear jet - they appear in these parochial, ironic and very shit adverts for products as pitiful as insurance, price-comparison websites and bread. Often sending up themselves - or the roles for which they're known. In British adverts for British brands.
This tells us many things. One, most celebrities are utterly shameless. Two, there must be a hell of a lot of cash flowing through the coffers of these companies. Three, there's a very good reason they're coming over here, rather than doing it on their native TV networks, to do it.
In years gone by Sylvester Stallone, Snoop Dogg, Al Pacino, Samuel L Jackson and Bruce Willis have also made the trip over the water. Or have they? In many cases, probably not, but there's a calculation going on here - a calculation that suggests the shame of patronising this shit is worth the money if you only damage your street cred in a faraway land.
In years gone by it was known as Japandering - whoring yourself for cash in foreign lands on the basis that none of your white, English-speaking fans would ever see you humiliate yourself. Here's a good example: Schwarzenegger, one of the biggest movie draws of the 80s, appearing in a fucking bonkers Japanese advert for an energy drink at the height of his fame.
There are various degrees of awfulness and contempt to these adverts, but no-one comes out with much credit. Apart from a couple million more in the bank. One thing I am certain of is that we haven't seen the last of Hollywood celebrities in British adverts. They'll be back. Oh yes, they'll be back.
Harvey Keitel / Winston Wolfe Direct Line adverts
Harvey Keitel is a funny one. Here is a man who has has authenticity coming out of his arse. Born to immigrant parents who ran a restaurant in Brooklyn; a veteran; taught to act by Strasbourg; long associations with Scorsese and Tarantino; earned his stripes with against-type portrayals in films by Jane Campion and Abel Ferrara; acted under De Palma, Coppola and Scott; a peer of De Niro, Pacino and Nicholson - a quartet of actors you could argue have formed the bedrock of some of the most acclaimed and successful films of several recent decades; one of Hollywood's most iconic tough guys of the last 40 years. He must be fucking minted.
And yet he is happy to collect a cheque in which he shits all over one of his most iconic roles in a film directed by his protege, Quentin Tarantino. I happen to think that Tarantino is vastly overrated as a director, but popular opinion and celluloid consensus is against me: Pulp Fiction is a classic, the film's fixer, Winston Wolfe, is an icon and Keitel is one of the coolest character actors in modern Hollywood.
Which makes it all the more bizarre that he's prepared to spray that film and his own reputation with whippet shit. Keitel not only riffs on his image from the film as a mob fixer but repeats phrases and set-ups in the adverts, extricating Direct Line customers from minor scrapes with recourse to an insurance company. Or does he? Perhaps he really is going to shoot a lot of people in the head in order to remedy these prangs, leaks and boiler repairs. And surely Direct Line aren't equating home insurance with illegal racketeering?
Al Pacino and Bruce Willis Sky adverts
Seeing this pair advertise Sky in their inevitably half-hearted styles is sad as much as anything. Pacino once smouldered with intensity; Willis a wise-cracking everyman. Nowadays they look tired, used up, bored to tears by everything they do - including these embarrassing Sky adverts, in which they inevitably come up against some dopey, star-struck, weird-looking Brits.
Pacino actually references the fact that he might keel over at any second. And Willis taking one of them home to fuck does not make it any less sad. Indeed, after half an hour of trying to get it up and failing it probably serves to enhance the innate tragedy.
Harrison Ford Sky advert
This is, at least, not wholly embarrassing for Ford - and at least it's not inserting him into some drab domestic situation and asking him to make a fool of himself. But he just looks so very tired, as if all he wants to do is lie down and go to sleep. The man who played Han Solo, Rick Deckard and Indiana Jones looks more likely to doze off and start snoring halfway through a movie than be a kid again.
I find the overt wielding of cash fairly vulgar in this instance too. Sky, Virgin, Netflix, BT and the rest hurl around utterly vast sums of money in an effort to increase their share of the cash you allocate towards making your snoozy nights on the sofa that little bit more bearable. Lulling you into a soporific stupor as they lift another £80 monthly fee out of your bank account. We're slaves to our tellies in this way and these box-set wielding behemoths are our masters.
That they can spend these shit-tonnes of cash to convince more and more people to watch slightly differing shades of glossy, largely braindead television is one of the more sinister facets of our modern society. Oh, look, Game Of Thrones. A child being burned to death. LOL!
Sylvester Stallone Warburton's adverts
This the one that take the floppy, rubbery, processed-flour cake. Tory donors Warburton's offer up a grisly concoction of Chairman Jonathan Warburton and dough-faced Hollywood punchbag Sylvester Stallone engaging in an unlikely conversation about bread. For more background on this I urge you to read this apparently serious interview with the bread impresario, in which he voices his disbelief that Alastair Cook didn't realise supermarket bread was fresh.
I suppose it's something to be grateful for that Stallone didn't rape Rocky in earning his filthy lucre. And a soldier with PTSD massacring Muslims probably wouldn't play too well in Bolton, so they've plumped for a thinly-veiled Expendables pastiche. A mass-murdering mercenary, then, was deemed an appropriate character to base the advert around. Yet the odd smart visual gag can't rescue the fact that this is just horrible - a patronising, badly-acted and fundamentally dishonest advert about bread that votes for David Cameron.
Snoop Dogg / MoneySupermarket adverts
Gangsta rap's whole ethos is an expression of the desire for money and power - and ability to express both in the most vulgar way possible - so it's no surprise Snoop is prepared to eat shit in exchange for lots of The Benjamins.
The idea that saving money on a price-comparison site is somehow equatable to doing burnouts in low-riders and twerking with a bunch of honeyz is surely one that resonated with the Essex-dwelling C2s that make up MoneySupermarket's core demographic too.
John Cleese / Specsavers advert
It gives me no pleasure but say it, but it's precisely 28 years since John Cleese was last funny. In the same way that most musicians outlive their sell-by dates, churning out forgettable music by muscle-memory rather for any especially noble reason, many comedians start a low slide into irrelevance around middle age.
Fawlty Towers will always remain a landmark in comedy - and Cleese will rightly be lauded for his work - but this advert is just rather sad, for lots of reasons. It's impossible to link Cleese-Now with Cleese-Then, as a result this is simply the equivalent of acting karaoke by an old man who bears a passing resemblance to Basil Fawlty. Cleese must have been offered a tonne of cash for this - as he must have been hundreds of times over the last 30 years - and claims that he acceded this time because he thought it was funny. But it isn't.
Neither Cleese nor Specsavers come out with any credit. For the latter this is simply an opportunity to keep a tired joke going by besmirching the memory of a comedy classic. For the former, a million quid.
Nicole Kidman CompareTheMarket adverts
In my mind's eye Kidman gets booked in for a day of soul-destroying shit one every couple of months. She does a few voiceovers for adverts (probably those ones where radio stations can bag a bespoke mention), takes part in a few round-table interviews in which unlucky journos are allowed to ask one question each about her new film no-one gives a fuck about and spends two hours talking to a CGI meerkat. For this day's work she bags, ooh, let's say $1m. Then she goes home and devours the soul of a maid whose name she's never really known.
Put all that to one side and you have someone who's been rich, successful and acclaimed for almost 30 years. Humiliating herself for money in a market she's calculated cannot damage her fame or professional standing. Perhaps the lack of nobility about the whole shouldn't surprise us - but it's worth remembering that while your man on the street might think it a bit of fun, the very existence of these adverts shows us what these celebrities, agencies and brands really think of us.
Well, this is interesting. I wonder how many people spat out their half-time lager/tea/laverbread during the England/Wales rugby world cup advert break - or choked on their acid during This Is England 1990 on Channel 4 - when they saw the 'cat and budgie' Freeview advert interrupted by a robot a bit like ED209 from Robocop marching towards them and telling them to conform (and upgrade and subscribe).
I had to wind it back myself, just to check what I'd actually seen. Sure enough, there's a little interference at the start of the advert, which slowly gives way to what looks like a pirate feed interrupting the usual ITV signal.
What is this? A They Live!-style subconscious message we suddenly all became aware of? A pirate signal? A spot of adbusting? No, it's a Freeview advert that's needling the Sky/Virgin/BT orthodoxy of how we watch television these days. Here's why - and how:
We are moving towards an economic system that's based on subscriptions. This makes sense when you think about it. Most of our digital services - and much of the hardware the serves them - are subscribed to. You don't buy Virgin - you lease a box and the services from them. You don't buy the internet, online storage or telephony. If you think about it you subscribe to your utilities. You don't just pay a one-off fee and get electricity for the rest of your life. You only ever really 'own' your house after 30 years of the most expensive hire-purchase agreement you'll ever enter into.
— -abbiher (@askalaaa) September 26, 2015
Telecommunications, multimedia and infotainment systems also run like this, because it's easier to upsell packages in this manner and because these apps and systems regularly need upgrading. I suspect we will move towards a subscription system in many walks of life - mobility, food, leisure - in the next couple of decades.
Why buy a car you use for four per cent of the time when it depreciates like a lead ballon? Why not, instead, pay a monthly fee for an integrated transport service that includes use of a car (like ZipCar), access to taxis (like Uber) and public transport? Frankly that system makes a lot more sense in some regards.
Do anyone else see that weird advert Interruption on itv or was that just me? #RugbyWorldCup
— Mara (@SamaraLouiseJW) September 26, 2015
But here's the rub - and wha the 'hacked' Freeview advert. You buy a 12-, 24- or 36-month subscription that looks great value. You get hardware, continued services and some added fripperies. And then six months later you get a letter saying your monthly bills have to rise. And six months later you get another. Then your set-top box becomes redundant and you have to upgrade. Then everything's on HD so you have to upgrade again. Then you have to get some brilliant new channel because that programme all your mates are watching means upgrading.
Before you know it you're paying £100 a month to watch a bit of telly, look at the internet and rent a landline (here's my regular BBC bit too - you complain about the licence fee and pay a grand a year to watch adverts. What's wrong with you?).
Did anyone else just see the weird subliminal TV hacking on ITV+1?! #disturbed
— M.H.J (@MeganHJames) September 26, 2015
And that's what this Freeview advert is about. We've sleepwalked into stumping up a grand a year to watch more telly. As far as I'm concerned this hasn't made me happier, expanded my horizons or meaningfully opened up quality new television to me. So recently I lost patience, on receipt of another letter from Virgin telling me I had to pay for the same service - and I slashed my package.
My favourite advert with the singing cat & budgie just had some weird subliminal shit interrupting it. WTF ITV???
— James M (@Arrogant_Duck) September 26, 2015
I pay the minimum amount for the minimum number of channels and I honestly have not noticed the difference. In all likelihood I'll buy a Freeview box before long and be done with the whole silly merry-go-round of subscribe-upgrade-conform.
Which, for me, makes this clever advertising from Freeview - certainly it makes more of an impact than the cat-and-budgie ads or even the lovely Left Behinds advert. They're quite nice, but they didn't really mean much to me.
— Chris Wilks (@SirWilks) September 26, 2015
This Freeview advert certainly got people talking - and it seems to have genuinely rattled people. For my money, anything that gives people a jolt while they're shovelling takeaways and sugary gak down their gaping maws as they stare slack-jawed at the telly is fine by me.
Normal service will now be resumed...
Set Yourself Free Freeview Advert
Here's the full - and pretty lengthy - Freeview advert these inserts have been building up to. It's called Set Yourself Free.
And here's a load of bumph about the entire campaign from Freeview.
Freeview, the UK’s no.1 TV platform, is set to unveil its biggest ever advertising campaign to launch connected TV service Freeview Play.
Airing today (Friday 2 October) the new TV Freeview advert Set Yourself Free will launch as a premiere ad break during Emmerdale under ITV’s Proud to Present banner and will be introduced by the channel’s continuity announcer. The advert is a two minute CGI film which opens in an Orwellian world with an army of TVs brainwashing inhabitants to ‘conform’, ‘upgrade’ and ‘subscribe’.
In this world is the advert’s young Hero TV, at odds with those around him, and a girl with her dog who long for a better way to watch TV. As the Freeview Play Hero TV escapes the dystopian world, the viewer follows his journey until he is united with the girl and dog and opens up a whole new world of free-to-air television to them.
Set Yourself Free is set to a new version of the iconic I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables performed by Sarah Kingsmill and recorded specially for the advert. Since last Saturday Freeview has been teasing the new campaign with a version of the brand’s Cat and Budgie advert interrupted by an evil TV from Set Yourself Free.
The TV campaign will also include 60 and 40 second versions plus Freeview adverts which explain the features and benefits of Freeview Play. It will also be complemented by in-store, print and outdoor advertising as well as digital and social activation.
Freeview Play launches this month and combines catch-up TV, on-demand services and live television, bringing the ability to watch what you want, when you want, as easily as possible, to the mass market. The service is free from subscription and works with all existing broadband services.
Guy North, Freeview Managing Director, said: “Freeview Play is the biggest development in the brand’s history and our new advert perfectly illustrates that with it viewers are now free to choose the TV service that best meets their needs.”
Owen Jenkinson, Freeview Head of Marketing, said: “Set Yourself Free is really an emancipation story. The aim of the advert is to challenge category norms and show that there is a better, savvier way to watch free TV in a visually striking and compelling narrative.”
Set Yourself Free was created by Leo Burnett with visual effects by Electric Theatre Collective. MEC is Freeview’s media buying agency.
Freeview advert press release