Whatever else you might think of Spandau Ballet and their enduring, um, ballet True it’s a fairly calming piece of music. Which makes its interruption with some shocking jolts of speedcore thrash electrifyingly unpleasant in this new advert for Virgin Trains, which attempts to juxtapose the misery of a car journey with the unfettered nirvana of paying £879 for a return ticket to London, probably.
I like trains, but absolutely no-one is convincing me that – in the majority if situations – jumping in the car isn’t a more pleasant commuting experience than getting the train. Not only that, it’s massively cheaper too, the cost of modern train travel being one of the enduring myths of our time on a par with the apparent popularity of Russell Howard.
In this regard the cognitive dissonance between how train travel is presented – sipping a coffee in a deserted carriage while bucolia flashes by outside at 200mph – with the cramped, grinding reality of standing-room only misery would be laughable if it weren’t so depressing. Every train journey I’ve endured recently has consisted of desperately trying to get a signal on my phone so I didn’t have to stare right into the face of a stranger three inches from my own and trying to ignore the smell from the toilet.
On the flipside, while I don’t enjoy commuting I get a great deal out of driving cars in my own time. I like the freedom, the time alone with my thoughts, radio or a podcast, the comfort. And I like the door-to-door nature of it. It’s easier, it’s cheaper – and it’s much more affordable than our shambolic, privatised and cripplingly expensive train network. If anything the misery of modern train travel reminds me of the pneumatic drill of relentless 200bpm audio apocalypse. Take the car Valerie, at least you can listen to Pop Master.
Let’s get this out the way: I don’t much care for Queen. Radio Ga-Ga, Somebody To Love and Under Pressure can go toe-to-toe with any tune out there, but for my money Queen yo-yos between novelty band and embarrassing Dadrock.
But that doesn’t mean I approve of the ongoing pillaging of the Queen back catalogue by whoever waves a big enough cheque at whoever holds the rights to what’s probably one of the most lucrative bodies of work in Western music. A body of work crammed full of catchy hooks, memorable choruses and quotable lyrics, just waiting for some vast mechanised system to come along and greedily hoover them up and spit them out covered in shit.
In fact – and I’m looking at you Dacia and Flash – it’s one of the most egregious things I can think of. Whenever I see these adverts all I can think of is someone gleefully pissing straight in the faces of the people who love this music: the sort of casual disrespect of someone knocking the heads off your daffodils for shits and giggles.
Just image your favourite band’s music being forcefully taken up the bum without so much as a smear of vaseline, just so some crap car or chemically pap manages to get a single clawhold in your head in the very unlikely chance that you might vaguely considering buying one (or some).
Those songs that make you smile, make you cry. They might remind you of your cherished childhood, of your first (or lost) love. Schooldays, holidays. Maybe a departed friend or relative. Music is a constant companion and the power of a favoured song by a much-loved band can transcend most other experiences in the right place and right time. We celebrate to it; weep to it. It unites us and allows us to tune into a shred empathy more than perhaps any other experience in life. Music is brilliant and it is beautiful.
And then an advertiser comes along, takes that thing that you love and treasure and turns it against you. Not only is that music roughly wrestled from your grasp, it’s perverted and transformed into something awful by advertising. And it’s no mistake. Making you hate these adverts isn’t some unintentional by-product: it’s purely, coldly and cruelly deliberate.
Let’s say you open the door to me. I introduce myself and then hand you a tenner, make my farewell and head off into the night. You’d remember that.
Now image that you open the door to me, I introduce myself to you then slap you in the face. Guess which one you’d find more memorable.
Now – and here’s what the likes of Flash and Dacia are doing in this metaphor – imagine I introduce myself to you then explain that I’ve tattooed Donald Trump’s horrible hate-contorted visage on the face of your partner. Imagine when you ask why I would do such a thing I shrug and say this: “So you’ll never forget the moment when I ruined something you loved forever, just so you’d remember it”.
That’s what Procter & Gamble did when it Oked this Flash advert. And it’s what Renault did when it OKed this Dacia advert. Not because they hate they you, not because they want to ruin music for you.
Because anything and everything that can be used against you – love, hate, fear, insecurity, hope and nostalgia – will be used against you if someone thinks it can be used to sell you something.
I don’t have the words for how utterly abysmal both of these adverts are. They’re so bad I’m sure it can only be deliberate, because the worse they are the more impactful they are. In this way advertising ensures that, sooner or later, all of our treasured music, films, actors and stories will be chewed up and spat out in the hope of ring-fencing a minute speck of your brain so that, the next time you’re in Tesco, some unknown impulse makes you pick up a bottle of chemical detergent and put it into your trolley.