Vodafone Advert: Martin Freeman Submits To Money

Martin Freeman Vodafone advert

I have a lot of time for Martin Freeman. His everyman, underdog shtick has a real ring of authenticity and, as the most relatable man in most television series or films he’s in he’s a natural repository of good will and trust for the viewing public. Tim in The Office; John Watson in Sherlock; Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers; Bilbo Fucking Baggins… he’s always a bit nice, a bit awkward and so very human. He might as well have been walking around with a target painted on his back as far as advertising is concerned – hence this Vodafone advert.

I wrote an email to a Government agency a while ago, providing my advice on how to communicate important things (pensions, benefits – boring, awkward, difficult stuff to communicate in adverts) through the medium of television advertising, having been unimpressed by their over-complicated efforts.

The concept ran as such: if you need to tell the unwashed masses about something both dull and difficult – the switching off of the analogue system that was feared might result in thousands of grannies being unable to watch Countdown and not knowing why, for example – you do it as simply as possible. An example: Michael Parkinson, sat on a chair, a white background, explaining in white-hot Yorkshire common sense that you need to buy a Freeview box if you want to be able to continue watching Inspector Morse repeats for 18 hours a day.

For that demographic you could hardly do better than Parky – a man with a face like Harrogate toffee, a voice like warm beer and a presence like a crackling open fire. A man imbued with good humour and sincerity.

Martin Freeman is the Michael Parkinson of Generation X and Y, who have almost been trained to listen to what he says and silently root for him. Tim the Underdog, John the Underdog, Arthur the Underdog, Martin the Underdog. Slightly pained, put-upon – but we will always have his back. Because he’s you, me, us. We see Martin Freeman and we see ourselves. So if Martin Freeman has a Vodafone contract and wants to make lots of money through that association, who are we to judge?

For advertisers, Martin Freeman must be catnip – not for nothing is his voice lathered over TV adverts. Freeman is a precision-guided missile to your Trust Nodules, buried deep inside your Empathy Gland, just next to your Buying Synapses. It’s no surprise he’s in such demand from charities and political parties – it’s hard to think of anyone better who can convey the required feels.

In this context it’s clear why Freeman is a man in demand in advertising. And despite the ubiquity of his adverts, the frequency of them and – more often than not – the annoyingness of them, we can’t hold it against him.

For he is Martin Freeman. Bastard.

Labour Party Keeps It Simple

Perhaps Labour is putting the KISS mantra into place with its viral ads in the 2010 General Election; perhaps they think that everyday TV faces recognised by millions will win over floating voters, or at least get the core vote out.

Or perhaps they’re totally skint. Either way, these ads from Labour featuring Ross Kemp (dig at the missus?), Sean Pertwee and Eddie Izzard are startling in their simplicity – and appear to feature the celebrities speaking for themselves on voting in the election.

The Road Ahead has a bit more to it, with Pertwee hiking across the British countryside, but the Izzard and Kemp spots have a plain background, little in the way of graphics or soundtrack and two men putting over a very simple message.

I think they’re good, in that they’re communicating a simple message clearly, though whether that’s come about as a result of Labour being strapped is unclear. I often wonder why government agencies don’t ape this simple approach when attempting to communicate the likes of tax credits, digital switchovers and getting on the electoral role.

The ads generally trotted out in these genres are so convoluted as to be indistinguishable from the diaspora of modern advertising – does anyone really remember that daft digital one with the little robot and ugly man? – but what do I know?

Doing simple things well is rarely fashionable, and who’s going to pay for all of those second homes for ad execs if every ad features Michael Parkinson talking his sodding pension? But I’d stake my collection of digital PR newsletters that it would work. Keep It Simple, Stupid is a mantra we’d do well to observe in most walks of life.

60 seconds – Ross Kemp

Brilliant Britain – Eddie Izzard

The Road Ahead – Sean Pertwee

Change – Bill Bailey

They’ll be voting Labour

Bill Bailey, Jo Brand, Liz Dawn, Leonard Fenton, Prunella Scales, Tony Robinson, Peter Guinness and Roberta Taylor explain why they’ll be voting Labour on Thursday.