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Written by /Michael Blair 

Advertising in many forms has been with us for many years and has made us aware of numerous new products and other exciting ideas. Or has it? Do we take in all or any of the "essential" glossy short stories? I will attempt to make sense of the business of selling crap on television.

When I was growing up, we had two television channels, BBC and ITV. The latter was divided into regions by way of franchise. Our region was Grampian TV which was seen by the northern part of the country. A bit of a geographic mystery, as we lived in Perthshire. And Scottish TV, STV, covered the south of Scotland, which remained something exotic, as we had no way to see what the differences were.

Obviously, the BBC carried no advertising as it was and still is, a public broadcaster, paid for by a license by the public. This is still the case today. Not popular but the alternative would be advertising. The ITV, Independent TV, was fully funded by advertising.


This advertising was looked upon as a brash newcomer to the scene, and was treated like the plague by people who thought the BBC was much more highbrow and refined. Perhaps it was in those days. Presenters talked in a way which is almost impossible to imagine in this era. They made the Queen sound common!

Advertising was seen as vulgar and somewhat below the BBC standard. This was exactly the aim. Get the viewers who felt talked down to by the BBC.

There was a new kind of optimism appearing in the mid to late 1950's. Rock 'n roll was beginning to change young people's attitudes to life, love and lifestyles, and ITV was the place to hear and more importantly, to see these musical rebels.


As more young people watched ITV, advertisers realised here was a new and virtually untapped pool of viewers to target. In Britain, this uncharted territory. There had been no media advertising to the youth, and this was an opportunity grasped eagerly by those who saw pound signs before their eyes.

Colour television didn't appear in the UK until 1967, and in our house, we didn't get a colour TV until 1974. So until then, we had to watch advertising in monochrome. I was never a fan of commercial television because of the disruption to programmes, which we didn't have on the BBC.

Advertising never made sense to me. Especially the ones which were for things already well known products. If people didn't know what a powder for washing clothes was, they must be living in a cave in the hills. New products I understood, but not the household names.

The best adverts were in the cinema before the main feature. They always sounded more important due to their volume and quality. I can't remember rushing out to buy the products though.

As the years have passed, advertising has changed radically. We had the comedy ones of the seventies, with Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter. And many others which were like mini serials, with the public waiting for the next episode. French orange liqueur and various chocolate bars being some of the best.

These days, fewer "celebrities" appear in television commercials than in the past, but there are still a few. James Corden being one along with Kevin Bacon. I know one needs the money, but I'm not sure about the other's reasons. Probably naked greed.

Another feature of modern advertising is the confusion of "what the hell is that about?" I've watched numerous adverts and even after they're over, I'm still none the wiser! I expect others are similarly baffled by trying to guess the connection between a ballet dancing ferret and coconut butter face cream, and other equally strange images. This is in fact genius. If the clients don't understand what it's about, but don't want to ask the teenage video maker, that's wonderful. And even if they can see how it works, they know it will mystify the public, and make it a talking point.

I prefer the more direct message. "This is great. You cannot live without this item. Buy it now!" This way the choice is clear. I can dismiss it immediately and move on to next useless "super, amazing, wondrous, must have item."

My final complaint is the current length and volume of television commercials. They are taking over more of the time than some programmes and in which they appear, the sound increases markedly. The makers claim this isn't true, but my ears tell me the opposite. I don't expect they care about my hearing. Only the profit.

As you can see, I'm like everyone else. I pretend to dislike advertising on television, while reveling in the joy of deciphering the impossible. A bit like politics, but even less honest.

Anyway, I'm going to sit down with a cup of freshly advertised coffee and watch some adverts interspersed with snippets of programme. 




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