I don’t see anyone else laughing

In the last few years, ever since the advertising world became comfortable with the word ‘viral’, we have become more accustomed than ever to before to seeing brands we know and trust ripping the piss out of themselves. To us the parodic, the sardonic, the ironic have utterly saturated the advertising world. It’s time for advertising to start taking itself seriously again.

Bodyform spoof advert (Youtube)

This isn’t new – but the self-referential advertisement reached its apogee with Old Spice, or at least it reached it this time round. This may well be a cyclical trend – Judith Williamson was well aware of the phenomenon in her 1978 book Decoding Advertisements. Her analysis of the self-referential advert, such as an advert for pain that references an advert for butter, is that it is an appeal for the viewer to trust the brand. Almost paradoxically, if a brand acknowledges the nonsense and skulduggery of advertising then it is a brand to trust.

Old Spice poleaxed the hyper masculinity of advertising to men in order to reassure their viewer that they knew they were ordinary people that just wanted to smell good. Newcastle Brown Ale are frankly informing their youtube viewers ‘The more you watch these videos, the less we need to pay to run them on TV.’ Most recently Bodyform have released a response to a facebook post complaining about their adverts misrepresentation of periods that deconstructs the tropes of the feminine care (cringe) advert, it’s had rather a lot of blog coverage already.  

VW Think Small advert (graphic-design.com)

In isolation each of these adverts are funny and interesting. At its best this approach to advertising can be genuinely critical and enlightening. However the public are aware that advertising is an attempt to sell to them, and the supposed honesty of the self-referential advert is in our opinion already beginning to grate. This advertising runs the risk of appearing conceited – what ever happened to the brand that takes itself seriously? Even the ever earnest Apple is subverting the brand ambassador with ditzy informal pixie dream girl Zooey Deschanel.

So what is the alternative?

We’d like to challenge brands to start taking themselves and the people they are targeting seriously again. How about a stylish serious type of advertising with no double meanings? What about a return to the days before even the VW Think Small campaign? No double meaning – just honest to goodness selling?


  1. I’ll admit, there is a small part of me that still enjoys these campaigns. I have no shame in saying that I laughed (yes, out loud) at the Bodyform viral. However, these tounge-in-cheek ‘Lynx effect’ adverts have lost their punch, and ultimately are getting a bit predictable. Even brands that are relatively small and unknown are going down this route. Take Brew Dog for example. A small beer company, whose recent stunt: http://www.brewdog.com/blog-article/brewdog-takes-london was meant to wow, anger and shock with their parody of Gail Porter’s Parliament shot.

    Personally, I think it fell flat…

    1. Agreed. I think the question is not whether any one execution is good or bad. Some of them are undoubtedly funny, it’s en masse that they lose their sheen. Although if you’d like to see a version of this that falls flat on it’s face. Mainly because the brand has no right to be provocative. Try this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdHocrK59bo

  2. I disagree with this point of view entirely. There are too many reasons that this sort of advertising isn’t going to disappear any time soon. It will remain because it’s necessary. Necessary even if it’s only to command attention. Culture has become self-referential and that’s that. Post-modernism is still going strong and it’s not about to change.

    These ads may take the back seat, and not make to our TV screens, but they’ll stick around because of the audience. Brands are going to enter the era of the multiple message, where the medium is the message and the message isn’t monolithic.

    That’s going to be my article for the job application. I like the idea of being a semiologist.

    1. Hi Nicolas, I’m pleased to see that our blog is getting you so animated! Thanks for reading. We’ll look forward to seeing what you send us.

      1. I wrote about Hurricane Sandy in the end. I’d love to hear what you think in advance. In the meantime, here’s a great example of another ironic ad.

        It’s a great example of talking to people that aren’t your natural audience. By recognising there is competition and dissent, brands can actually enter a real discussion with society and potential, even unlikely prospects. It’s been foretold, but it doesn’t always happen.

        It shows that brands are now embracing multiple strategies and talking to multiple audiences. There can be a core message for a core audience. In the case of IE, “Welcome to a more beautiful web” for the mainstream , with flashy creative, etc. On the other hand, IE is also talking to techies who really look at what browsers have to offer, as well as people who left IE a while ago with the rise of Mozilla and Chrome. Now that the product is up to scratch, they can really engage with that audience (and at least get them to try it once again).

  3. The nature of contemporary advertisements have fundamentally changed with the proliferation of streaming video. As sites like YouTube commercialized over the past five years they have, in turn, influenced the formatting, style, and distribution of mainstream commercials. Traditional fifteen and thirty second television spots are by no means gone, but they are no longer the central focus of advertising campaigns. Long format commercials – a minute or two in length – intended for online distribution (and later edited into shorter TV spots) are increasingly important to brands. One of the many benefits of this approach is it allows for a more engaging and creative advertisement.

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