Government information films have come a long way eh? Rather than employ a continuity announcer with a familiar voice to impart instructions over some footage of someone frowning at a piece of paper we now have this: a disembodied Arnold Schwarzenegger head rolling around on a pair of tracks barking at people to decide whether to submit in a PPI claim, like Total Recall crossed with 1984 in an episode of Robot Wars.
But that’s not even the weirdest thing about this advert for the Financial Conduct Authority, a quasi-governmental body (as opposed to a quasi-bodied Governor) that oversees wrongdoing in the finance industry.
Quite what a bunch of side-parted middle-aged white men in suits did when they saw this advert is an intriguing question – and probably involves an emergency pair of navy blue Marks & Spencer’s suit trousers. But I digress. The most frightening thing about this is the soundtrack, quite clearly commissioned at great expense from Ennio Morricone.
Aphex Twin’s entire body of work isn’t as alarming as the menacing early 80s synths evident here that everyone recognises as shorthand for something very unpleasant erupting from your every orifice simultaneously. Here we’re mentally prepared for the sort of jarring explosion of violence that would see bodies splattered all over the walls in the flicks the soundtrack evokes.
On top of this aural nightmarescape we have Schwarzenegger himself barking furious instructions at us: ‘make a decision!’; ‘come on, come on!’ and ‘do it nooooow!’. The combination is instantly unnerving – a shot of adrenaline on top of a Jagerbomb. Arnie has got your attention.
But there’s more. It’s funny. It’s so wildly odd that it can’t help be funny – and it’s played for laughs. Instead of blowing everyone away – even while delivering bad-guy despatching one-liners – Arnold chides them for failing to decide whether they’re going to make a claim for missold payment protection insurance. The effect is like someone punching you in the face while tickling you.
“Bye-bye to the PPI,” sings Carnold in his ludicrous East European accent that sounds like his entire lower jaw is made from rubber bands. Then an authority figure in the shape of a stern-looking blonde, sitting incongruously behind a big desk and treating the whole situation as she might a Tuesday afternoon in the dole office
What sense can we make of this, once we get past the genuinely disturbing dissonance of the whole affair? Well, I applaud the fact that it exists. It was paid for by the 18 firms who represent over 90% of all PPI complaints over the last decade or so and I’d like to think the people heading those banks will be blowing lumps of swanburger across their TV sets when they see this FCA ad.
This is, of course, yet another example of the nostalgia mining we’ve seen in recent ads, including the Halifax Top Cat adverts, EpicSkeletor advert – and more evidence that your childhood is up for grabs in the world of advertising boardrooms.
But in those adverts it’s wrong-headed, smug and inept. It’s just X (ironic thing) + Y (horrible financial thing) = advert. This Arnie advert is so incredibly odd I can’t help but to admire it. What works here is the people in the shop look genuinely alarmed and disturbed, rather like the civvies in a series of excellent PaddyPower adverts from a few years back, who looked terrified when the likes of Des Walker and Bruce Grobbelaar turned up unexpectedly in their houses and start being weird.
In the utterly shite Skeletor advert for MoneySupermarket everyone’s in on the very naff joke; in the terrible Top Cat / Scooby Doo Halifax adverts no-one ponders why cartoon characters want a mortgage or a current account or whatever the fuck they’re going to the bank for. What are they good for? A yawn, a shrug or vague irritation.
But the Schwarzenegger PPI advert has the courage of its convictions. All the participants are actually frightened – and being angrily berated by an animatronic Governator. And so are we.
Yes there are adverts out there designed to irritate and annoy us – this website is devoted to them. But to have the balls to deliberately shit up your audience and shout in their faces? Bravo, FCA, bravo. I take my hat – if not my head – off to you.