Saturday, August 6, 2022

Aidan Smith: Young could rebel even if Netflix restores the golden age of advertising

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The other day while I was driving my eldest daughter somewhere, which of course is my main role in life, the radio played a bunch of classic TV commercial jingles.

I remembered everyone and could shout or sing the slogan just before it was played. The daughter looked at me with displeasure, which, of course, is her main role in life.

I tried to explain that in a golden age of television, half of the total output of four channels came with commercial breaks and we, that’s her mother and I and everyone of our generation, just had to sit and take it.

We couldn’t pause live and then fast forward once the commercial was over. Since we had recorded a program that we wanted to watch later, we couldn’t just blur them out. The ability to behave like one’s television planner, even like God, was fantasy, a storyline that lacked any credibility. None of us believed that such powers were attainable, nor did we desire them.

Then, after the last jingle, came the reason for this mega-mix of sponsorship messages with a report on how Netflix, the broadcast empire built on ad-free, is losing so many viewers that it’s being forced to introduce a cheaper subscription plan that comes with ads.

My 13 year old, who only watches Netflix, made a face. “But that’s not us, dad, is it?” she said, and before I could answer, she groaned, “Yeah yeah, cost of living crisis, I suppose.” Then came a choked squeak that Netflix fans everywhere have recognized as the signature of the bratty Princess Alexa from Schitt’s Creek: “Ewwww!”

Do you remember when advertising was art? When were they better than the programs? When showbiz careers were started by them, or actually blocked by them because they were so etched into the collective consciousness that these poor actors couldn’t walk down the street without being attacked with the punch line?

It will be difficult to convince teenagers that such a time existed.

If my daughter were to peek into the living room while her parents watch terrestrial TV the old-fashioned way, en route to her bedroom and her self-tailored screen choices, she might remark, “No more generic advertising depicting a lively family…or any.” , which has spent the entire budget on a ridden actor’s euphonious voice…or one that relies entirely on the power of cheap music, with a choon plucked from dusty twilight, whereupon its cult appeal is instantly ruined by overexposure.” (Recent example: “I Saw the Light”. Todd Rundgren, you dumb old fool, why are you sanctioning your finest non-smash for this hopping family in an RV flogging online bingo?).

It’s true that many ads look the same these days. For example, when a couple of mature years show up, you don’t know if the theme of their playlet will be Bifold Doors or Viagra.

Commercials were far better when Leonard Rossiter regularly doused Joan Collins in Cinzano. The best commercials were event TV and the follow-up episodes were eagerly awaited. Playing her very last role, Collins’ fondest memory is of that moment, mid-flight, when she rescued her glass from a flying tray, only for Rossiter to press the button to recline her seat.

Brilliant comic timing. Clever scripts. Artful directing. The most creative minds in advertising in the 1970s would later make their way to the big screen. At least Alan Parker and Ridley Scott became film directors. Tim Bell, on the other hand, worked for the Conservative Party. (The slogan “Labour is not working” or Blade Runner – what would you rather have on your tombstone?).

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