For meta or worse

When I recently asked myself which TV ads from the last thirty years had made a lasting impression on me and why, three ads immediately sprang to mind. Weirdly, all three were in black and white and they were all significant to me for the same reason.

The oldest of the three, from 1986, is for The Guardian and uses point of view to brilliant effect. The ad powerfully exploits our tendency to assess people’s character instantly based only on their appearance. It sagely reminds us that we can tell ourselves a distorted and false version of events based on nothing more than prejudices and assumptions.

The Guardian – ‘Points of View’

The second example for The Times (from the late 90s?) uses a quirky and seemingly trivial starting point to show how even the apparently banal can assume potent symbolism and significance.

The Times – ‘Banana’

The last selection, a BBH / Audi ad from the mid-1990s, is a rare thing – a piece of satire that succeeds as advertising. Its simple twist deliciously skewers both the yuppie archetype and the fabled macho, swaggering BMW-driver.

Audi – ‘Tell Charles I’m On My Way’

When was the last time you saw a car ad – or any TV ad, for that matter – that wove in some witty and well-observed social commentary? Okay, these are sophisticated ads aimed at an affluent, educated elite (to which I probably belong) but I admire them for their ambition.

These ads say more than they’re supposed to. They embrace the ‘meta’. They have something to say as well as something to sell. At the very least, they contain ideas that extend beyond marketing. They show that advertising can be enriching and stimulating as well as commercial. As far as I can see, there are currently very few brands doing this with any conviction or integrity. I’d love to be proven wrong.

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