Is it that time again? It scarcely seems five minutes since I was last wading through the dreck of another year’s worst adverts. Already it’s time to list the worst adverts of 2014. So, what’s changed over the last year?
For me there have been two noticeable trends. Firstly we’re seeing the bar being lowered ever further, as TV advertising becomes more affordable to smaller businesses. This has inevitably resulted in adverts that are truly abysmal, usually relying on a cover of a popular song with the brand name sung over the top of it – or merely inept, ill-conceived adverts acted badly and boasting some of the worst production values since Eldorado was last on television.
Secondly, we’ve seen something of a decline in the mind-drilling, dog-whistling exercises in simply being memorable – at least by the likes of gambling and price-comparison companies: Go Compare has retired Welsh tenor Gio Compario; Confused.com has ditched its hapless and rather pitiful in-house Cara Confused nonsense; Paddy Power seems to have reined in its openly dog-whistling adverts; Ladbrokes seems to have distanced itself from its Lad Banter idiom of the last few years. Once again, it’s reasonably safe to switch over to the commercial channels without hovering over the Mute button.
We’ve also seen the complete disappearance of my long-time bete noir, Wonga.com, which has retreated from television advertising like a celebrity tit-feeler seeking asylum in a home-counties pile, ensconced behind big iron gates and stewing in resentment at being caught out.
All of which might leave material thin on the ground, you might think. Not a bit of it. 2014 has given us bad adverts in a range of colours and textures. Some are inept, some badly misjudged, some insulting, some tired, some simply annoying – others are actively offensive.
Getting angry at the television is among life’s most futile pursuits. But there’s so much to get angry about, whether it’s impotent fury at an annoying jingle, distaste at using war to shift stock or the terrible sense of doom one gets when watching people fight over discounted tablets.
The turbo capitalism that now dictates how we live forces us to reassess the role of marketing and advertising in encouraging us to spend, consume and fundamentally to live beyond our means. And the way we consume and the way we live is, if you dwell on it for any amount of time, terrifying. Whether adverts are a cause, a symptom or somewhere in-between is up for debate, but in such a world it so often feels as if going mad is the only way of staying sane.
The Worst Adverts Of 2014
A horrible appropriation of death, mayhem and suffering in search of increased market share.
I’m still waiting for someone to explain why using 9/11 as a backdrop to an advert would be worse than this. Why? Because it wouldn’t.
So earnest it makes Black Narcissus look like Hollyoaks, starring a man who appears to be a South African Bond villain.
Bullets. Ink. What? Inexplicable.
Not annoying, not offensive, not even particularly bad. Just puzzling. How does depilation make you more successful, carefree, stressless – fundamentally more complete as a human being? Answer it doesn’t. But Wilkinson Sword is keen to have you believe it does. Just as everyone who works in advertising seems to be keen that we all see the Redknapp clan on our commercial breaks as often as is feasible.
I have a theory that Harry Redknapp isn’t Jamie’s Dad; he’s a Dorian-esque attic portrait who’s gone rogue and developed a life of his own. It’s the only possible explanation, when you think about it. As for Louise, a robot I should imagine. A man who’s done a deal with the devil, his animated, droopy alter ego and his robot wife. I digress, but that’s literally what the Redknapps are.
A lesson in how even the most imaginative, engaging and amusing campaign can become an exercise in diminished returns. These days the meerkat adverts – now numbering over 40 – appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season. If only they could all get bitten by cobras. Yes, even Baby Oleg.
If ever an advert came close to bullying it’s this egregious and ubiquitous effort from modern-day ambulance-chasers Gladstone Brookes. It’s not simply the insistence, it’s the way it actively berates you. Like a child demanding you buy it a tillside Wispa – and looking you in the eye and telling you you’re a failure as a parent.
Well fuck you, Gladstone Brookes, from every last person in the country.
The thing is, I can understand this and, in a way, I applaud this effort by Apple, which normally sticks to being as insufferably smug as possible. I like adverts that mash up a load of unlikely sources, dig out some obscure stuff from the archives and create something new and brilliant. Hell, my favourite advert ever – one of my favourite things ever – does exactly this.
Volkswagen’s Night Driving advert from a few years ago combines Richard Burton’s growling narration of Under Milk Wood, adds Cliff Martinez’s ethereal soundtrack from Soderbergh’s Solaris and lays them over some beautiful visuals. It’s almost enough to make me interested in a Volkswagen Golf.
In the same way that curation isn’t simply hanging a load of pictures on a wall, creating something new out of old ingredients is a serious skill. And it nearly works here – it really does. That song is intriguing and unforgettable and kinda glorious. But, at the last minute, it splits like a sauce; separates like oil and water.
Close, but no cigar. And after a few viewings the Chicken Fat advert simply became aggravating. Such a fine line between startling success and ignoble failure. Sadly, after a fortnight of seeing this ad the only running I was doing was out of the room whenever I heard the opening bars. Truth be told I probably creaked slowly to my feet, exhaled for a few seconds then hobbled towards the door at 1mph, but you get the picture.
This repeated attempt by Andrex to make us buy their ridiculous wet wipes has already seen Dawn Porter basically harrassing members of the public in their workplace shitters – now it’s time for Ariel Free to make actors talk about faeces while eating chocolate cake in a cafe. In the meantime, something interesting has happened.
Suddenly I’ve noticed a carpet-bombing campaign by the private companies who run our water utilities pleading with us not to flush Andrex’s ‘flushable’ wet wipes down the toilets as they, er, collapse sewers. So, ironically, these Andrex Washlets adverts aren’t just really shit, they’re actively responsible for human waste bubbling up through the drains, across your garden and in through your back door. Thanks Andrex.
An advert so purely infuriating it genuinely made me fear for the safety of the actors involved. This seemed to be on televisions constantly – and then not at all. Probably for the best – as I noted at the time no-one wanted to see they guy in this ad thrashed to within an inch of his life while some yobs yelled “Anything for you, cupcake!” at him in a Brummie accent, all the time raining down blows of ad-inspired fury.
Hive represents a growing trend in adverts over the last year or so – the fey, affected ‘look-at-me-I’m-normal’ style of ad narration that wants to be your best friend. The thing is, I can scarcely think of anything more annoying than this try-hard form of delivery with its kooky, faux-naturalistic lyrics that try to make us believe that controlling your heating via mobile phone app is a paradigm shift.
The only way I can get through this ad is by imagining each verse ending with an agonised “Owwwwwwwww!” as someone kicks the gas-loving songsmith in the nuts.
I don’t know how to say this, but… football doesn’t matter. It actually doesn’t matter at all. It’s not important. And if you think it is you’ve basically been brainwashed.
Carpets are more important than football. Woodlice are more important than football. Black holes are more important that football. Cochineal is more important than football. Suplhur is more important than football. The A19 is more important that football. Gamma waves are more important that football. K9, the robot dog from Doctor Who, is more important than football. Holly Willoughby is more important than football. Cheese is more important than football. Ealing comedies are more important than football. Eating with your mouth closed is more important than football. Cosmology is more important that football. Lollipops are more important than football. Narwhals are important than football.
Football doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.
This is the only way I want to see this cheddary twat portrayed on my tellybox from now on.
I hate beards. I’ve worn a beard – on and off – since I was about 19, in strict defiance of prevailing trends and the express desires of Wilkinson Sword. It’s not really a statement of any sort, more of an unwillingness to drag sharp metal across my face every day, or have a shaver nip hairs out of my unprotected neck every 24 hours. But I’m seriously considering shaving off my beard. Why? Because of twats like the Cuprinol man.
We’re at peak beard. Beards are being culturally appropriated by idiots – this miniaturised, airborn paintophilic being a case in point. Whenever a big-bootied Jamaican dancehall queen looks at Miley Cyrus, I bet she feels like this.
I liked it better when beards were a sign that you were, unashamedly, A Man. Either that or a signal that you Couldn’t Be Arsed. No grooming, no beard oil, no stupid moustaches or silly hats in wanky bars. Just a load of hair on your face. Not a sign that you thought Ed Fucking Sheeran was the last word in cool music.
Shoot this face-hair traitor out of the sky already.
I honestly feel as if I beat Wonga. I feel like I drove them into the sea with the power of my rhetoric and it was as if everyone suddenly realised I was right along – even Wonga – and I was (metaphorically) paraded through the streets on the shoulders of the Financial Conduct Authority while Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert gave me a massage and Matt Alright from Rogue Traders gave me a thumbs-up.
I beat Wonga. It was all me. Like Christ twatting the money lenders. Like Moriarty going over the Reichenbach Falls. I was right all along and now it’s all down to me that Wonga has been comprehensively fucked up.
I BEAT WONGA.
• Want more? Read the lists from previous years…