What do the film ‘A Night to Remember’, Armistead Maupin’s ‘Maybe the Moon’, Cilla Black’s ‘Surprise, Surprise’, Ty Pennington’s ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’, Port Vale FC, my children and the John Lewis’s Christmas commercial all have in common?
I’ll tell you. They’ve all reduced me to tears.
Actually, Port Vale FC and my children do that to me on a virtual weekly, if not daily, basis.
Back to that John Lewis’s commercial though. If you’re of that kind of emotionally overwrought disposition, prone to lapsing into sentimentality, you can sort of expect that tearful outcome with films, books and TV programmes, things that have deliberately set out to tug away at the heartstrings.
But a TV commercial? I mean, really? Duh?
I know I’m the kind to break down at the first hint of a reunion involving long lost relatives, I know I’m turned into to a whimpering incoherent mush by anything involving a child and serious illness, but I have to say blubbering my eyes out over a TV advert was a definite first for me. And anecdotal evidence would seem to support the notion that I wasn’t the only one.
Now the decorations have been taken down, that disaster of a sweater your mother bought you has been returned to the shop from whence it came, and that big fat ridiculous inflatable Santa has finally been taken off the roof, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what all the furore was about.
And furore it undoubtedly was.
After all, how could a mere TV commercial entrench itself so firmly in the consciousness of the public? How could you find it the central topic of conversation at virtually every Christmas social you attended (perhaps I just get invited to really dull do’s). How could it have so quickly spawned a surfeit of spoofs – a sure sign if ever there was one of its status and penetration into the public perception.
I guess there are a few reasons.
In itself, it was a brilliant, immaculately conceived and crafted piece of drama. Forget the fact it was advertising something. It was simply a faultless piece of story-telling with every scene and vignette beautifully weaved together to retain interest and attention. A compulsive repeating drama you had to watch again and again because, like the very best films, you had to make sure you hadn’t missed anything relevant the first time.
And, of course, it was relevant. Boy, was it relevant, seamlessly, inconspicuously, filling up the commercial with actual products sold by the actual advertiser that viewers might end up actually buying in one of their actual stores. In an age where something as simple as portraying typical products and typical customers has seemingly become a forgotten art, when the world’s largest primate playing drums is deemed the best way to sell chocolate, wasn’t it refreshing to see a piece of advertising that presented its wares so cleanly and honestly. Wasn’t it a nice change to see substance winning over style? And especially at Christmas.
Maybe it was the fact that there was a twist. A delicious delightful twist that, the first time around, I swear I never saw coming – and which, despite repeated viewings, still surprised me time and time and time again.
Maybe it was the unforgettably haunting soundtrack, a cover of a Smiths song that has in turn stirred up its own minor controversy, with fans of the band accusing Morrissey, the ultimate anti establishmentarian figure, and Marr of selling out to the middle classes.
Maybe it was the fact that, irrespective of what particular chaos reigned in our own living room, whenever the commercial aired you could be pretty much assured that, by the final frame, all occupants – parent and child alike – were held in a kind of rapt appreciative silence.
Maybe it was all down to timing. Maybe, in a world that seems increasingly dehumanised, after a year where the cities have burned and shop windows have shattered, we all welcomed a bit of sentiment into our lives, no matter how sickly, sweet or cloying. We all needed to rediscover that simple emotional warmth and innocence again.
Or maybe it was the fact that – for the first time in a very long time – I found myself, as a creative in an advertising agency, staring at a TV commercial and thinking: ‘Wow, I’d wish I’d done that.’ Hand on heart, it made me want to take one hand out of the mixed nuts bowl and the other out of the ‘Celebrations’ box and, instead, head for the HROC studio to whip out my A3 layout pad and big thick N60 marker, like days of yore.
But, most of all, it was probably because the ad made me want to act in a certain way. Why, it was all I could do to stop myself from hopping in the car and heading out in search of the nearest Lewis’s store – this from someone who has never felt a particular affiliation with or connection to the shop. I found myself affected, influenced, persuaded. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what we – as advertising agents – are supposed to be trying to do?