Shelter Advert: House of Cards

If you’ve been more preoccupied with slamming the BBC or laughing at Todd Carty recently, you may have failed to notice that the world’s entire economy is sliding into a deep depression. Maybe, like me, you prefer not to think about the ramifications this involves as the prospect is simply too terrifying.

I really don’t think anyone quite grasps what this might spell for us over the next few years and I’m not sure why. It’s certainly not through lack of information and analysis, you can’t turn on the television without Robert Peston lounging around like he owns the BBC telling us how great he is and, incidentally, how we’re all fucked.

The internet has exploded, news runs for 24 hours a day and every man and his dog is blogging furiously on the subject like modern-day Solomons. So how come no-one is bothered about the approaching economic doomsday? I can only assume that the airwaves and micro filaments are so crammed with doom that people have become inured to it. I’ve seen videos on the internet of people being killed, and they were followed by a string of comments from bored viewers casually discussing the minutiae of proceedings. I felt sick for a week.

The telecommunications explosion was supposed to liberate, empower and educate us. It’s simply dulled our wits and emotions. So it takes an advert that’s either willing to push taste and sense to the extremes to make us sit up and take notice, or an advert that’s so powerful in concept and execution that we can’t help but be impressed.

All of which brings me to Shelter’s new appeal, an ad which I’ve yet to see on TV but has been doing the rounds on various PR blogs for some time. With a soundtrack by Radiohead – a first incidentally – it was never likely to be a laughfest, but I think this advert is the most startling 60 seconds I’ve ever seen. In the 80’s it took John Hurt-voiced ad to actually ram home the idea that you could catch a horrible, lethal illness simply by having sex. It was terrifying stuff, though it was hardly subtle.

Neither is the Shelter ad, the evocation of 9/11 is hard to avoid, but the experience is much more insidious.

The flawless CGI, the camera’s initially-startled gaze, the pan out to a crumbling landscape and the soft voiceover by Samantha Morton combine to make the whole experience deeply unsettling. It’s a soft sell, but the message is unequivocal.

Shelter’s ad is the AIDS advert of its day. You can take all the blogs, all the editorial and analysis, all the graphs and photos of despairing traders and boarded-up Woolies. The first time people see this advert is the first time most will come face-to-face with the tangible consequences of what all those electronic balance sheets mean in the real world. And it’s quite terrifying.