Yes, The Fast Show was brilliant. The characters, the catchphrases, the sheer machine-gun delivery of laughs. Paul Whitehouse clearly has an eye for a comic grotesque, but there’s more to it than that. Many of the best characters touched on a fundamental truth relating to their primary characteristic – we could relate to them, in some way.
That’s clearly the thinking behind this seemingly neverending set of adverts for Aviva, which does insurance or something. Whitehouse has appeared – it seems to me – as about eight hundred different characters all talking about the benefits of some sort of insurance.
One of these – the dead Dad looking after his family from beyond the grave – I find genuinely obnoxious. The others? A weird mix of irritating, try-hard surreal and just wrong.
Take the pasty-faced Welsh goth with a fixation on chintzy ornaments. Eh? All I can manage to take from this grotesque creation is a genuine sense of discomfort looking at Whitehouse’s jowly face grinning in trowelled-on make-up; something somewhere between The League of Gentlemen and Silence of the Lambs.
And the Plymouth fan. “Green Army!,” may have had idiots LOLing on Twitter, but it made me want to throw my cat at the telly. Then there was the Scottish ballroom dancer who had recently purchased some cuban heels. A bloke who enjoys fishing and a feller who likes metal detecting.
Now we’ve got even more: the northern bingo-caller, who seems to be based on Ted Robbins; a yoga instructor (Neil Innes); a toff with a wrinkled retainer, not unlike Rowley Birkin; a Geordie miser; the worst Scottish accent ever. There’s a pattern developing here, I’ll explain it thus:
Stupid accent + affliction / weird appearance x unlikely obsession = Paul Whitehouse advert / Paul Whitehouse holiday villa
Based on that we can create our own Aviva characters. First we need an accent. We’ve not had scouse yet, so let’s go for that one. Second, something that’s apparently an amusing or offbeat pasttime. Let’s say… stamp collecting. Yes, that will work. Thirdly, let’s suggest that Albie (they all appear to have daft names) has one leg. A one-legged Liverpudlian philatelist.
A-ha, but there’ll need to be a reason to reference Aviva here. Let’s suggest that the recent wet weather has caused the roof to cave in at Albie’s house – while he was out getting ‘legless’ – and ruin his prized Penny Black (Albie will say ‘arlarse’).
But – a-ha! – he’d insured his stamps with Aviva! Hooray! Albie will probably hobble towards the camera saying “That’s dead boss, that is!”. Proudly, Albie will show off a new stamp that’s in some way strange (ummmm… it’s got Donna Air on it; Albie will fancy her) and praise Aviva for sorting it all out. He is “made up”.
Want to make your own Aviva / Paul Whitehouse advert character? I’ll start you off with a few options – all you have to do is stick them together. Then, like Paul Whitehouse, maybe you can make hundreds of thousands of pounds for a load of old fucking rope.
In Roger Corman’s portmanteau of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories, Masque of the Red Death, Vincent Price – as Prince Prospero – explains that his father once locked a man in a yellow room for a year to see what would happen. When Prospero was done with him the man was half-mad and unable to look at the colour yellow for the rest of his life.
Having watched eleven months of adverts that could drive the calmest man to knuckle-biting angst I know how he felt. What would happen, I wonder, if a man were made to watch price-comparison website adverts non-stop for a year? My bet would be a fate from another Poe story, namely being reduced to a puddle of foul, stinking, steaming pustulation in a matter of minutes.
2011 continued where 2010 left off, with a number of big names – chiefly price-comparison sites, financial sectors and high-street names – doing their level best to put you in a bad mood. In a marketplace where brand recognition is paramount, an advert equivalent of a hair-pull is good work.
Let’s consider, for a second, the utter absurdity of price-comparison adverts. Short, aggressive messages that cost tens of millions of quid to create and distribute; designed to make us use a website that shows aggregated prices for financial services. And to make us use them they try their damnedest to make us feel angry – it’s utterly barking mad by any rational standpoint. Welcome to advertising.
So it should come as no surprise that price-comparison site adverts usually constitute a significant degree of ‘worst of’ lists. Go Compare and Confused.com anyway. In my wholly scientific price-comparison site advert survey earlier this year readers disliked them the most. CompareTheMarket continues to show that price-comparison sites can be tolerable, enjoyable even, but the majority of ads in this pester-power genre have all the subtlety of a South London racist tram rant.
I’ve left Go Compare off this year – I think we can all take it as read that we hate it – and the Patrick Stewart MoneySupermarket ones haven’t quite piqued my anger yet. Confused.com is, of course, because I absolutely despise it.
Alas, there’s nothing we can do about any of this. You want your Corrie, your I’m A Celebrity, your X-Factor, your E4, your More 4; you pay for it. By buying Corn Flakes, Anusol, Mattesons smoked pork sausages, Muller yoghurt, KFC and Volkswagen Crafters. By submitting your details to MoneySupermarket and Go Compare; by banking with Barclays and Santander and Halifax. By doing your Xmas shop at M&S, Tesco, Iceland and Littlewoods.
You pay for these adverts to be created. You have created your very own monster. Stacey Solomon’s gangbang of cheap food and families. Jamie’s Oliver increasingly piggy face smirking over some brussel sprouts. Freddie Flintoff headbutting pork pies. And, lest we forget, Cara Confused pulling unfeasibly large items out of her vagina.
The only, tiny, infinitesimal thing you can do is to boycott the products of the ads you despise; an act so futile it’s up there with shouting at the telly and blogging about adverts you hate.
But you can strike a blow for humanity. You can, in your own way, blow Gio Compario’s brains out; throw an anvil at the Halifax choir or kick that “Wooh! Hello buddy, how’s your shave?” twat up the arse forever by delivering swift internet justice.
Vote for your worst advert of the year here – and send a metaphorical horse’s head to these people. It’s the one chance you’ll ever get to fight back. The war was lost long ago but, briefly, the boot is on the other foot. And it’s a foot of righteous anger.
Deliver it to the knackers of evil – and rejoice.
The worst adverts of 2011 – shortlist
Marks and Spencer Xmas ad
An advert that is so brazen in the lie that it is telling even Tony Blair would baulk at delivering it. Honey-voiced cannon fodder line up to tell us that your dreams can comes true even as they’re being edited out of the ad, week by week, as theirs die in the pages of tabloid and shopping centre ribbon-slicing Hell.
I’ve never included an advert on these lists before simply because the soundtrack is so irredeemably awful. The visual concept is quite nice – albeit not exactly original – but this rendition of Wouldn’t It Be Nice – a truly beautiful and lovely song – is so stomach-knottingly awful with its whiney delivery that this may be my most despised advert of the year.
It’s possible that this advert opens up a small rip in the space/time continuum every time it’s played, so up its own backside is it; like an Ouroboros serpent burrowing into its own rectum, rather than swallowing its tail.
Several people have already been sucked into some sort of existential Mobius strip, as reality struggles to orientate itself with this new level of awfulness.
An elbow to the nose of anyone who’s attended Heathrow; to anyone who’s been through a body scanner; to anyone who’s looked forlornly at a notice board to see a row of red where their flight details should be.
Wonga got into trouble last year for making adverts deemed too flippant to sell an eye-wateringly high money-lending service, so what did it come back with? Three grotesque hyperannuated puppets, gurning and twitching around, explaining various ‘payday loan’ scenarios.
Adverts to give you nightmares, if not for the crippling APR, then the disturbing mannequins – like marionette corpses given life once more in the pursuit of selling ill-advised loans.
Would you buy money form reanimated cadavers, twitching around in their ghastly parody of their former lives? Did you know that Wonga.com actually uses reanimated corpses to staff its call centres? Of course you didn’t. But you do now.
I have no inherent objection to ads that try something else; cock a snoop at received wisdom. I like Jarvis and Gondry; some of my favourite adverts are utterly batshit crazy, but this is simply idiotic. No-one knows who these three people are; two-thirds of them are hard to understand; the concept is confusing and unengaging.
The most ridiculous thing of all is that this is an advert for Eurostar that’s using London 2012 as a hook. It is quite conceivable that Europeans might be lured to Eurostar by the promise of Olympic sports to the other side of the channel.
But it has exactly zero relevance to anyone in the UK – unless they’re planning to fly to Paris and then get the train back to London in order to get to a lake in Slough. Just a bad, bad idea.
BMW tracked to two brothers and interviewed them about their empty lives: cue instant hatred.
How could it ever have been otherwise? Everything about this advert is dripping with a smugness so cloying it’s a relief when the television doesn’t dissolve in a warm, self-satisfied fart and start oozing into the carpet.
The Lunds themselves may be nice people, but if BMW had made it their target to make themselves, and the brothers, look like the biggest cunts in the world they couldn’t have done a better job.
I’m still not exactly sure what happened here? Is this the confused result of an ad simply gone very wrong? Or, more likely, an attempt at a deliberately bad advert. A bad advert so bad that it made Halifax and Go Compare look like an indoor firework compared to Haribo’s Tunguska?
Are there any vile pornographic subtexts here? Almost certainly not – but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to imply that there are. And it’s really hideous stuff. I mean it. Sick, just sick.
Can you image if you actually, in real life, saw the events in this ad take place? The utter horror of that – your world turned totally upside down. Either you had lost your mind or, or…
The alternative is too hideous to contemplate. But I feel sure the Haribo family would start moving towards you. No smiles, dancing or singing now. Just pure, unfettered blood lust. The horrifyingly blank eyes, the hungry mouths, the chittering noise as they gnash their teeth…
This, on the other hand, is rather more straightforward. It’s utterly hideous on a much more prosaic level; the result of a creative brief just going more and more wrong with each successive iteration.
There’s a decent idea behind all of this; it looks glossy enough. But it’s annoying. And it’s utterly inept. Why the heck was a rap about salad included here? And why crowbar it into the ad is such an unwieldy way? “Help yourself to salad [three second pause]… all the salad that you want.” Dear Christ.
I refuse to believe anyone associated with the ad was happy with this. No-one put this to bed with that sense of satisfaction of a job well done; just a weary shrug. The problems, the lack of direction, vague brief, ‘the best we could do’.
I imagine the director, driving away from the shoot at a Harvester on an industrial estate near Daventry; Five Live is on but he’s not listening. He misses his turning but just lights a cigarette and just drives and drives and drives…
Stephen Merchant always seemed like the nice one when set against Ricky Gervais, didn’t he? You could imagine Ricky Gervais actually physically abusing Warwick Davies – but not Merchant.
He may not actually step in but would linger in the background, distaste writ large on his face as Gervais’ high-pitched hyena-ish laugh rang out, another blow raining down on the dwarf’s back.
“Come on Ricky,” he’d offer, a weak smile on his lips. “That’s enough now. He’s had enough for one day.”
Gervais would stop; his fun forgotten, for now.
“What did you say? ‘Stop’? Stop what?”. His voice is calm and sounds reasonable, but there’s a dread stillness to him now.
Suddenly Warwick shrieks in pain as the riding crop connects; another withering blow on his lacerated buttocks.
A nervous rejoinder: “The, er, the whipping. Stop. You’ve gone too far.” Merchant swallows hard.
“Too far? I’ve gone too far?” A high-pitched giggle, baring those oddly pointy teeth. “And who are you to tell me I’ve gone too far, you gangly Milky Bar… Cunt.”
Gervais approaches, flicking the riding crop absent-mindedly, unblinking.
Merchant spots a squirrel dashing across the set and point it out, hoping it will lighten the mood.
“Squirrel there, oops, he’s off,” pointing at the squirrel disappearing through a door; another nervous smile.
It’s not working – and he can tell Ricky is getting tumescent with the thrill of the violence that is to come.
“No, come on, you’ve had your fun Ricky. Let’s write some more lines, eh?”
“‘Write more lines’? Oh, I see. You want some of this too. Is that what you want?”
Spittle flecks the lips and Gervais is clearly nursing something that isn’t vertically challenged in his pants.
“You want to talk to Mr Whippy too? I’ll write some lines – across your back!”
Ricky is now pointing at Stephen’s face with the fun-size whip. Stephen backs away, but Shaun Williamson grabs him from behind and holds him steady.
Gervais raises the whip above his head, Merchant knows that to struggle will only make it worse. Warwick Davies is sobbing across the room – still wearing the leather chaps and waistcoat Gervais insists on – a look on his face that says ‘thankyou’.
At that second Johnny Depp enters the room, and it’s as if a light has been switched on. Gervais drops the riding crop, Barry wanders off in search of cream cakes and Merchant relaxes, slightly.
He fingers the scars on his face and neck; flinching at Ricky’s high-pitched whinnying. At least Warwick survived.
Once upon a time you might have looked at Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and imagined a dynamic between them a bit like that. But no more. This set of Barclays adverts are so awful I find it impossible to look at him in anything approaching a positive light any more.
I’m sure Ricky Gervais does not whip dwarves with riding crops, just as I’m sure neither man is actually evil. But whenever one of these ads comes on I think of Merchant brandishing an Ewok figurine and throwing it at Warwick Davies. Really hard. And laughing.
…and still they come. Confused.com adverts are certainly memorable – for featuring a weird cult with massive bouncing breasts and a multi-dimensional muffed leader singing about what is understood to be a dating service.
If Brian Blessed were to shout FAIL from the moon for eight years it wouldn’t be sufficient to describe this deleterious misfire.
Can Paul Whitehouse tapdance? Is Paul Whitehouse dead? Has Paul Whitehouse bought a house in Tuscany? These ads seem to really confuse people, who don’t seem to be able to tell fiction from reality.
They confuse me too, mainly because they’re so strange. They’re just like Fast Show vignettes, but somehow there’s a message for insurance in there too. I never really receive that message because I’m too busy writing WTF? all over my skin in felt tip.
A very unlovely, aggravating, baffling and truly weird series. In’t Aviva brulliant? No, no it’s not.
Quite probably taking victory at the last minute, for my money, this Christmas advert for Littlewoods is not content with simply being an entirely new shade of awful, it’s killed off Santa too.
I’m not really sure why Littlewoods felt the need to dispossess children of their youthful innocence quite so abruptly and violently, but there you are. Perhaps because Santa Claus is now deemed an obstacle to accessing the true meaning of Christmas – children’s pester power – to be tolerated any longer.
Perhaps they should have gone further; explaining that their parents will die one day, anything they truly love will be taken away from them and there is no God.
Start firing off Littlewoods credit cards emblazoned with ‘THIS IS THE ONLY THING THAT TRULY LOVES YOU’ once they get to 12 months, I say.
Idiotic – if nicely shot – drivel that made 53,000 people come to this site over the course of the year to try and find what the hell was going on.
I don’t have the energy to talk about it again. Suffice to say that the guy doing the voice was NOT Morgan Freeman.
I always hated this song, but imagine how much more I hate it now that it’s being used to advertise cow paste, using a reanimated cow skidding around on a dinner table.
I mean, at least Wonga waits until people die to use their corpses to run their UK operations, but Colmans relies on cow’s being killed to make its beef gravy. That’s right – a creature loses its life for this to be made possible.
That’s all well and good, but there’s no need to shout about it – or make a hideous, distasteful advert about it. It would be like Wonga using their bodysnatching teams on their adverts.
Having dispensed with the services of DLKW, who were responsible for the radio station adverts, it’s now up to Adam & Eve to rescue Halifax’s reputation; battered by poor performance as part of Lloyds and its hated ad campaigns.
This one is noticeably less egregious; it’s not actually trying to cause you mental distress, which is always a bonus. The people in the choir are actual Halifax employees and they’re trying to convey messages such as Halifax’s Saturday opening and so on.
But still it’s horribly annoying. It may be the misappropriation of the songs – I don’t want my bank telling me they’ll ‘be there’ or that I’ve had a ‘hard days night’, but it’s OK ‘cos the bank’s open in the morning.
What next? ‘It’s OK not to be OK’? ‘You are beautiful in ever single way way’? ‘What I got you gotta get and put it in ya’?
To try and bolt such garbled messages about savings accounts and the like to these twee little ditties is simply rather grisly. It’s like a door-to-door salesman spending hours cooing over your family snaps and lovely crockery, only to open his briefcase in the last ten minutes and try to sell you a ‘little piece of paradise’.
You kinda wonder if all the preceding stuff is just a big pile of bullshit, don’t you? And, you know what, you’d be absolutely right. Banks exist to make money from you – don’t forget it.
Also, bonus hatred for the guy who does a little first pump in the bottom left-hand corner at the climax of one of the ads – for some reason not present in any of the ads on Youtube. I bet the people who made the ad would make out that it was “just something he did on the day” and that they “decided to leave it in”.
Lucky that he was positioned in one of the two places that would be really noticeable, then, eh?
Now vote for your most hated ad of 2011
You’ve seen the candidates – now you have to pick one. And only one, mind. None of this multiple voting shit. I know it’s hard. You may have to think long and hard and about – agonise over whether your vote goes to Wonga, Littlewoods, Barclays or one of the others.