The Gorilla, a baked Fabia and Mr. T? Why it’s the Top Twenty advertisements on British television in 2007

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An interesting piece in the Guardian business section from last month detailed the top twenty commercials on British television as complied by TellyAds.com. As Rebecca Smithers noted:

The website TellyAds.com named the top 20 favourite adverts based on the number of times each clip was viewed online. Its founder, Jon Cousins, said: “There are those who say TV advertising has had its day, but a lot of people who visit our site tell us they think the ads are often better than the programmes. It’s interesting to see that there have been around 4,000 new TV adverts produced this year alone.

It is far from scientific, but it does have the advantage of giving some sense of the respective popularity of commercials.

And the number one advert? That would be…

The Cadbury commercial featuring a drum-playing gorilla which attracted instant cult status and a number of online imitations has been named the year’s favourite TV advert in a poll.

The 90-second advert for Dairy Milk chocolate starred little-known US actor Garon Michael as the giant ape bashing along to Phil Collins’s In The Air Tonight.

Other adverts featured in the Top Twenty included:

in second place … the raunchy Boom Chicka Wahwah clip for Lynx, showing the seductive effects of the aftershave against a backdrop of 70s-style “adult music”. Third favourite is the uplifting commercial for car manufacturer Skoda, The Baking of Fabia, in which a team of white jacket-wearing bakers makes cakes and sweets to the soundtrack of Julie Andrews singing My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music. Viewers watch as a life-size Skoda Fabia is constructed from giant cakes, marzipan, chocolate blocks, liquorice and jelly.

And in the further reaches were such gems as:

The fifth most popular … the Snickers Get Some Nuts, featuring an angry Mr T from the 1980s hit series The A-Team emerging from a tank which has burst on to a football pitch, while in seventh position is the advert for Shreddies cereal featuring “knitting Nanas”. The latter’s high ranking is thanks to the US, where knitting and crocheting groups shared the link.

This humourous and surreal tendency in television advertising was emphasised by:

Heineken’s surreal advert featuring a lobster with a woman in a bath … in eighth position, while the sole fashion candidate in the top 20 is Marks & Spencer’s picnic, featuring models Twiggy, Erin O’Connor, Myleene Klass, Elizabeth Jagger and Laura Bailey, to the backdrop of the Small Faces’ hit Itchycoo Park.

So, what to say? Well, it is a curious, and perhaps dispiriting, experience to view these adverts in the context of the tellyAds site, a response which is no fault of the site, but is more particularly a function of watching them on a smaller screen wrestled out of context with the television programmes they bookend or intersperse. Somehow, despite the irritation they cause for so many, one is eventually acculturated to their presence on the television screen and the regularity of their appearance. I’m reminded of John Bergers words in Ways of Seeing where he argued that advertising images (which he termed, with a certain asperity, ‘publicity’) ‘…belong to the moment in the sense that they must be continually renewed and made up-to-date. Yet they never speak of the present. Often they refer to the past and always they speak of the future’. It would be easy to mistake surrealist stylistic quirks for truly an avant-garde shift in the nature of advertising.

And this point is perhaps reinforced by the gorilla advert. Arguably the popularity of the advert is precisely because of the peculiar initial stillness of the ‘gorilla’ as the music plays in the background. Somehow it provides at least a small element of calm before the drumming starts. Arguably this calm provides some respite in the face of the relentless onslaught of more traditional adverts which surround it.

And the functional aspects of the advert are remarkably clever. It lasts precisely 90 seconds long. The faux cinematic introduction as the camera pans towards the gorilla opens with the words “A glass and a half full production” and the recognisable, if not quite iconic, logo from a Cadbury’s chocolate bar in white set against a purple background identical in colour to that used on the packaging.

This is reiterated in the final seconds where a packet of Cadbury’s chocolate floats above the slogan “A glass and a half full of joy”.

It’s simple, effective and immediately memorable. It is certainly intriguing enough to view at least twice. That Cadbury’s appeared to stagger its introduction with a relatively limited play on the various television networks added to it’s uniqueness.

As Smithers notes:

Created by the award-winning Fallon agency in London, the commercial has stimulated great interest, partly because it does not feature the product until the very end.

A spokeswoman for Cadbury said: “The advert has been a huge success and it has positively affected sales of this product. But there is more to come next year. All advertisements will aim to make people smile and offer enjoyment, the same enjoyment that hopefully people get from eating a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.”

Indeed. If one visits the Cadbury’s site one will see the same advert in a larger format and one can also read the following invitation:

Well it just seemed like the right thing to do. There’s no clever science behind it – it’s just an effort to make you smile, in exactly the same way Cadbury Dairy Milk does. And that’s what we aim to continue to do; simply make you smile. So if a drumming gorilla’s not enough, wait until you see what else we have up our sleeves.
Sign up if you’re curious…

At the following site which covers advertising we read:

Laurence Green, planning director of Fallon, “Cadbury traditionally did well-built ads for the interruption age when consumers had an implicit media deal with advertisers. In exchange for free TV they would allow us to interrupt their programmes with commercials,” says Green. “The nation has a massive soft spot for CDM and it is deeply embedded in the national psyche. For a brand that is so well known, it’s arguable whether the old style interruption advertising model is the best model for the future. So we are trying to engage more genuinely with our audience.”

“Chocolate is about joy and pleasure. For years Cadbury has told us that it was generous, through the glass and a half strap line. We thought, don’t tell us how generous you are; show us. Don’t tell us about joy; show us joy.”

It’s an interesting thought, the idea that a bar of chocolate might somehow in some intangible fashion link into ‘the national psyche’. It also seems somewhat unlikely. As a building block of national self-identity it is hard to think of a less likely candidate, particularly when it would presumably have a similar function in Ireland and elsewhere.

Ellen Lupton and J Abbott Miller have argued in Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design that ‘ “the new advertising”… [utilised] the unorthodox strategies that transformed the character of advertising in the 1960s’. These used ‘irreverent humour, disarming wit, and a new self-consciousness about advertising’. All these features are present and correct in the Cadbury advert.

And again Berger’s words have a certain resonance. This advert ‘belongs to the moment’ almost literally. Berger notes that ‘we scarcely notice [advertising]… usually it is we who pass the image… we can look away, turn down the sound, make some coffee… yet despite this, one has the impression that publicity images are continually passing us…we are static; they are dynamic – until the newspaper is thrown away, the television programme continues or the poster is posted over…’. Berger provides an excoriating view of ‘publicity’ in his essay, one that in my view over-simplifies advertising and designed visual communications reducing it to the basest of commercial transactions. However it is difficult not to see his point in this respect.

And this is commercial. According to the UK Independent site the advert: is part of a £6.2m campaign from Cadbury and stars the US actor Garon Michael, who has something of a reputation as a primate having appeared in the films Congo, Instinct and Planet of the Apes.

The Independent further notes that:

The ad, which doesn’t even show any chocolate, is the first of a series from Fallon for Cadbury, with the aim of “making consumers smile”.

And a perhaps unintended consequence…

After its release, In the Air Tonight enjoyed a revival and is still at number 26 on the iTunes download chart.

Dairy Milk has been the leading chocolate brand since the 1920s. It has 10 per cent of market share with annual sales of more than £360m.

A telling statistic is available at Scientific American that

— 85 percent of consumers still find TV advertising to have the most impact on their buying habits, but online ads are second best, with 65 percent of consumers saying they have the most impact, beating out magazines at 63 percent.

And the Cadbury’s advert fits neatly into a dynamic referred to in the Scientific American report;

“I think for advertisers one of the conclusions is you don’t make decisions to advertise either on television or the Internet when you want to hit all the demographics, but rather you need to have a multiplatform strategy,” said Ken August, vice chairman and national sector leader for Deloitte & Touche’s media and entertainment practice, which commissioned the study. “It shouldn’t be an either or proposition.”

It’s utility is due to the multiplatform nature of its structure. It has some of the attributes of a trailer – or even, at a stretch, a short film. This is perfect for YouTube, multiple replication on numerous sites and word of mouth, or rather, communication by internet to generate interest, and subsequent purchasing.

It seems slightly ironic that in the same month as this advertising coup the Guardian business section reported that Cadbury Schweppes closed a UK based plant with 500 job losses.

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