Thursday, February 15, 2007


attempts to unravel the real truth behind Irreverence in Advertising in an age when love is commonly perceived as a delectable, consumer perishable and sex, an exciting, distracting casual insertion!

Earnest, young voice: Is that the G-Spot CafĂ© please? Have I ….er….got the number right, Ma’am?

Husky, excited, female voice: Oh yes! My God, you got the number spot-on, kid! Yes, Yes, Yesssss!

Shocking! Outrageous! Obscene? Disgusting? Fact is, never in the history of our nation have we had such a mammoth and gigantic volume of young readers/viewers/listeners in the loop. Their mandate is chillingly simple: If you can’t stop me in my tracks (in terms of interest and attention) or instantly entertain me in any which way, buddy, I am outta here!

In the Information over-kill times that we live in, one of the most deadly challenges thrown at Ad-ville is to create communication that connects with the new-age target group in swift, cutting, clutter-bustin’ fashion. Hence one of the avenues desperately explored is, irreverence. SHOCK TACTICS. However, it is important to remember that the “shock” must be relevant to the “product” and ensure that it drives its agenda effectively or else, it will be dismissed as a “shocking” example of irrelevant advertising!

Pulling back, irreverence – (brash, naughty, bold, cheeky, roguish) – seduces both high-powered Award juries and real people, because it adds colour and chutzpah in everyday lives. It makes one gasp, hold ones breath, sometimes (quietly) redden, and frequently zoom those damn eyeballs out of their corny sockets! As the iconic comedian John (Monty Python) Cleese once noted “It’s usually the thing that a small number of people vociferously object to that makes the largest number of people laugh the most. Examples: Erect nipples of a bratty young couple in the exact shape of the Play station’s Control teats, advertised! Or the astonishing ad created by the notorious OZ magazine for the FORMAL WEAR HIRE COMPANY which displayed a visual of a Buddhist monk in the act of immolation with a deathless headline – HE’S WARM, BUT IS HE WELL DRESSED?! Or the deliciously sinful one zeroing in on Christ’s crucifixion with the line: BODY PIERCING? JESUS HAD HIS DONE’ 2000 YEARS AGO!

Why is well-etched, craftily-capsuled and well-targeted irreverence so irresistible as a vehicle of communication to the sharp communicator? “Because it goes well beyond humour, which invariably wears thin after a few viewings and invests in the ad an indefinable aura that allows it to gatecrash public consciousness and remain there long after the commercial has finished playing” says a globally revered Creative Guru. He cites the example of the VOLKSWAGEN’S FUNERAL TVC, which (by daringly sending up a funeral) raised a billion eyebrows as well as sales and remains a standout in terms of brilliant, audacious irreverence in action! Produced in 1969, the iconic ad was voted into the 2nd place in year 2000, thirty years after its first run! A flashback to the lovers of truly outstanding example of irreverence in advertising (which remains an amazing case study) is below.
The brief was cut and dry – communicate the economy of owning a Volkswagen. Period. The creative solution: a funeral cortege of expensive limousines trailed by a sobbing young man in a lone VW Beatle. The Voice of a deceased (a rich, old miser) intones the provision of his will as each beneficiary rides his/her limo. “To my wife Rose, who spent money like there was no tomorrow, I leave one hundred dollars…and a calendar. To my sons Rodney and Victor who spent every dime I ever gave them on fancy cars and fast women, I leave fifty dollars – in dimes. To my business partner Jules whose only motto was SPEND, SPEND, SPEND! I leave – NOTHING! NOTHING! NOTHING! Finally to my nephew (we see a young man in VW) Harold who always told me A PENNY SAVED IS A PENNY EARNED & GEE, UNCLE MAX, IT SURE PAYS TO OWN A VOLKSWAGEN, I leave my entire fortune of one hundred billion dollars!”

The Pundits of this shock-it-where-it-hurts-most route have charted 4 highways to make irreverence tick. Lampoon the client and the product. Send up the people you love to hate. Whammo the establishment (the “revered” lawyers, Doctors, Authoritative figures, Police force). Make light of grave and deadly seriously aspects of the human condition – tragedy, grief, calamity even death… Impossible? Of course not! Admittedly, not everyone can trespass on this tricky territory successfully. It needs audacity, focus and a very heightened sense of strategic and psychological solidity.

Laughing at people you desist can be very fulfilling (even therapeutic) as the commercial (Saatchi & Saatchi) satirising politicians demonstrated. Here the candidate doing door-to-door canvassing is offered a piece of WHITTAKERS “GOOD HONEST” CHOCOLATE CAKE and on taking a bite immediately starts telling the truth. “As your MP I will be abusing the free airfares as will my wife and mistress. I’ll go joyriding on government limos spend a lot of time in bars and massage parlours…” Saatchi & Saatchi’s Sydney office unleashed yet another zonker that re-defined grave humour and took it to another level. Envisioned by Michael Newman, the whole idea and concept behind the ad was WHEN YOU’RE GONE, YOU’RE GONE. One TVC had superimposed on a black screen THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TO BE BURIED IN A $25,000 FUNERAL. Retaining the black screen, the next caption said AND THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TO BE BURIED IN A $5,000 FUNERAL. No difference, boss!

The golden rule however remains RELEVANCE. The miser’s FUNERAL was relevant to the economy of owning a VW. Being GOOD HONEST was all about truth, reinforcing the brand image. No Frills was about the idiocy of showing off when it doesn’t matter anymore. In today’s cynical times, people are willing, eager and ready to laugh at advertisers’ establishment, authoritative figures, norms and customs, even traditional taboos PROVIDED they are all done in good taste (are not corny or vicious) and ultimately what matters is that they are able to connect the brand to the viewer.