TV UK, 9 December

Christmas TV advertising: an irony-free zone.

Dolan Cummings

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Topics Politics

On television, December equals Christmas, and this is never more evident than during the adverts. Christmas advertising gives lie to the notion that we live in a highly sophisticated media-literate society, much less a culture rich in irony.

Take Dixons, which applies its famous pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap philosophy to its advertising as well as its digital cameras. That irritating blonde woman pops up every two minutes during peak time to remind us of the latest deals. Argos is much the same. There is no attempt to sublimate our sexual desires into a lust for DVD players, or to offer a glimpse of an unattainable lifestyle. These ads are aimed at flustered mothers of teenagers, who see Christmas shopping as an onerous duty, and are perhaps expected to be grateful to have the burden of choice taken on by the retailer.

The most irritating examples in this genre are the Boots adverts, played to saturation, presumably because people still don’t spontaneously associate what used to be a chemist’s with Christmas gifts. These feature the chronically unfunny Harry Hill, and an assistant with a West Indian accent, plugging Boots’ now famous three-for-the-price-of-two offer, which encourages consumers to buy unwanted gifts by the bundle. Do you know anyone who wants hair-straighteners? No, but they’re practically free. Sorted.

Not all Christmas advertising is quite so disenchanted, but the alternative is no more edifying. Take perfume adverts, which seem to be made in the land that irony forgot. Models on beaches, models in hotel rooms, pretty men and handsome women, usually in black and white or monochrome, pouting, suggesting imminent sexual abandon, breathless voiceovers, hint at narrative cut confusingly short…name of product. Again, I suppose these are indirect adverts, aimed at hapless boyfriends and bullying girlfriends, so they are intended less to arouse desire than to appear classy, to make the products seem like the sorts of things anyone should be grateful for.

The same can be said of the ads for the jewellers whose name I forget. (If I really loved someone I’m sure the name would have stuck.) A man looks nervous as he hands over the tastefully packaged gift to his lady friend. Did he get it right? Will she like it? But of course – this is a classy jewellers, and she’s a classy lady. Actually, I forget the exact wording, but it’s something like, spend £2000 on a pair of earrings and you can’t go wrong. That’s good to know.

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