Hollywood Celebrities In Adverts

john cleese specsavers fawlty towers advert

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.

bruce willis sky advert

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 direct line advert

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

al pacino sky advert
So very tired

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

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

sylvester stallone warburtons advert

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

snoop dogg moneysupermarket advert

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

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

nicole kidman comparethemarket advert

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.

Ten worst adverts of 2009

Gillette Phenom advert Woods Federer Henry

It’s been a tough year for TV viewers, assailed by telecommunications or financial services adverts at every turn. And to think people still want the licence fee scrapped.

On certain satellite channels this year I’ve been convinced the amount of advertising may have outweighed the amount of actual time devoted to showing programming, so ubiquitous were the adverts in questions.

And what a load of utter shit those adverts have been. Smugness and attempts to annoy brands into the minds of viewers are the two things that really get me.

In those instances you can almost picture the guilty creatives, gurgling beatifically as they masturbate onto a digestive biscuit before writing ‘Impatience is a Virtue’ onto an oversized whiteboard.

I find it all quite hateful, but that’s the world we live in. I like to think that the people involved are every bit aware of how utterly depressing it all is. But, while they are all going to hell, they earn more money than I do – so who’s the real chump?

It’s been a bad year for banks, Stephen Fry and the unlikely triumvirate of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Thierry Henry. But it’s been worse for Duffy, a singer potentially destroyed by a particularly catastrophic commercial.

My only hope is that the money was worth it for those celebs taking the shilling, especially if the ads they patronise appear is this list of 2009’s worst.

You may disagree with my choices, but I think this was about as bad as it got this year in advertising.

Peter Jones and his godawful Money Supermarket ads escaped the pits of despair on a turbocharged shopping trolley.

If you think I’ve missed any obvious others feel free to suggest them – and vote at the bottom – and remember that the people responsible will be lined up against a Shoreditch wall the second the revolution comes.

Ten worst adverts of 2009

Kebab Pot Noodle adverts

An ad that has the sheer effrontery to start with the words ‘We know you find us annoying’ goes straight to the top of my personal list through its sheer hatefulness.

My personal rejoinder to whoever was responsible for this will always be ‘I know you’ll find this agonising’.

The first, a Flight of the Conchords rip-off, was bad enough. The High School Musical One was actively evil.

The fact that it will be enjoyed by those low on gorm via their mobile phones and Bebo accounts makes it all the worse.

T-Mobile’s Life’s For Sharing advert

Flashmob advertising really seemed to hit its stride this year, with advertisers realising that a unique, joyous and spontaneous event could be harnessed by the forces of evil.

T-Mobile did an ad at Liverpool Street station that I actually thought was quite good – the reaction of people watching is what makes these. They all looked amused and cheered up; a brief chink of sunshine in their miserable trudge to work.

However, as flashmob ads have become more prevalent, the public has become more jaded. Nowadays its possible to see ‘making of’ and handheld footage of such events where people actively ignore flashmobs and similar stunts.

So, what was once something rather glorious and heart-warming has been transformed into someone trying to sell you a monthly telecommunications plan.

While this one for T-Mobile isn’t really a flashmob I’ve lumped it into the same mass public stunt genre.

Red driving school advert

Anyone who thinks that becoming a driving instructor is their way out of a badly-paid boring job into a new world of opportunity, hard cash and self-determination is sadly mistaken.

It’s a one-way ticket towards mind-shattering boredom interspersed with moments of extreme danger shared with endless, faceless, 18-year-old twunts who already have a brand new 3 Series (that you’ll never be able to afford) on a promise from their Dad.

Miraculously, even though this advert doesn’t reference any of these things it still communicates the extreme desperation involved in deciding to become a driving instructor.

Direct Line ads

2009 was the year Stephen Fry went massive, as if he wasn’t already there. Poor Stephen comes in for a lot of stick, mostly ill-deserved by my reckoning, but he hasn’t done himself any favours by agreeing to these terrible ads for Direct Line.

Paired with Paul Merton, perfectly cast as a sneering cockney shit, Fry exudes all the characteristics his critics level at him.

They’re unfunny, smug, aggravating and seemingly ubiquitous – which is exactly the sort of press Fry doesn’t need, as his detractors would paint him as all of the above.

Duffy coke ad

It’s just possible that this coke ad, featuring Duffy riding to the shops on a bike, could have finished off the ordinary Welsh songstrel, so debilitating has its effect been.

AdTurds’ Google Analytics accounts reveals thousands of combinations of keyword phrases all revolving around the words ‘Duffy’, ‘coke’, ‘advert’ ‘shit’ ‘terrible’ ‘awful’ and lots of other unfortunate adjectives in a similar vein.

There are adverts that irritate me far more than this one, but the exceedingly low quality of the concept and its execution make it easily the worst.

It almost feels me feel sorry for Duffy. One minute the new Carole King; the next a poor man’s Joss Stone.

Gillette Phenom

Just what on Earth are these adverts about? They look like a modern-day demographic box-ticking homo-erotic Three Stooges played out with at least two people seemingly incapable of adopting facial expressions.

And now Federer and Woods are replaced by cartoons, with only Henry of the original trio remaining to mug around in their ongoing contest of hitting each other with their respective balls.

Just baffling.

118 118 adverts

The original standard-bearer for deliberately annoying adverts, this absurd telephone information service certainly needs memorable ads to convince people to pay upwards of a quid to find information they could easily access through a Google search in seconds.

Like a load of advertisers have sat locked in a room with ten kilos of coke for a weekend, everything in these adverts smacks of a brainstorm spiralled horribly out of control.

Beefeaters, Ghostbusters, Dave Bedford, The Stig, Elvis impersonators – every post-modern crapulous ironic reference imaginable.

I hope Ray Parker Junior got a fucking packet.

Go Compare advert

An undisputed nadir of the annoying advert genre, sewn up earlier this year by the amusing Compare The Meerkat ads.

So it’s a case of diminishing returns for these ads, which are competing furiously for your attention.

Peter Jones ran this one close but it’s the fact that you can almost see the working behind this – maximum possible annoyance – running through it like a stick of rock that makes this one so deleterious.

Natwest help adverts

I’m writing this on a day when the supreme court has ruled that banks are allowed to make unfair charges – an issue the banks have spent the last decade fighting – on no moral basis whatsoever.

So any suggestion that banks really give a flying one about the general public is automatically exposed as the height of hypocrisy.

These adverts for Natwest, a bank which has charged me a few hundred quid over the years for occasionally straying a few pounds over my overdraft limit, are the worst.

And lest we mention the bonuses? Everyone hates banks now, but they don’t care – they don’t have to.

They have a carte blanche to screw you every which way, and no amount of touchy-feely adverts (which are inevitably awful) will change that.

Samsung Jet advert

The motherload. The most hateful pile of cack ever committed in the name of advertising.

A message so vacuous, yet simultaneously horrible, that it transcends the medium. This isn’t just one of the worst adverts ever, it’s one of the worst anything ever.

Its foretelling of a Britain where the only ideology is the satisfaction of appetites is the most chilling portent of a nihilistic future ever seen. It would have terrified Ballard and Burgess.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a bloke taking a picture of his cock on his mobile phone – forever.

Vote for the absolute worst advert of 2009: