PA­TRICK FREYNE

Hel­met-haired devil chil­dren, horses with leg­warm­ers, a young Alan Hughes . . . noth­ing can hold a can­dle to the TV ads of Christ­mas past

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

This year the win­ner of Christ­mas ad sea­son (Novem­ber) was pre­ma­turely de­clared to be John Lewis. The rad­i­cal Cor­bynite work­ers’ co­op­er­a­tive pro­voked tears of ac­quis­i­tive melan­choly with a pi­ano version of Half a World Away, and an in­fant voyeur who be­friends a lonely old moon-man and sends him a bal­loon-pro­pelled tele­scope. Now he can tear­fully view the John Lewis-in­duced glut­tony of oth­ers (she’s ba­si­cally rub­bing it in).

Peo­ple feel strongly about John Lewis ads. So don’t watch with a col­league and say “this ad isn’t very re­al­is­tic. If the old man really lived on the moon, lone­li­ness would be the least of his prob­lems.” Be­cause then your weep­ing col­league will ac­cuse you of hav­ing “no soul.”

In­stead watch Mog’s Christ­mas Calamity, the Sains­bury’s ad writ­ten by Ju­dith Kerr. In it, the epony­mous cat de­stroys the fam­ily home and teaches ev­ery­one the true mean­ing of Christ­mas (fam­ily, friends, cats). Ev­ery­one agrees that that ad is good, even though as a cat owner I dis­pute the no­tion that cats ever feel re­morse.

And also, while you’re here, con­sider th­ese ter­ri­fy­ing Christ­mas ad­ver­tise­ments from the olden days, which I’ve just re­mem­bered.

Pre­co­cious chil­dren force Santa to eat Corn­flakes

Three chil­dren: an en­tre­pre­neur­ial young Repub­li­can who prob­a­bly now runs Gold­man Sachs, an em­bit­tered 10-yearold spoil­sport (“This is very un­ortho­dox!” she says, in an English or Amer­i­can ac­cent de­pend­ing on the mar­ket) and one of the changelings from Vil­lage of the Damned, at­tempt to en­trap Santa Claus. As bait they use the refreshing corn treat in­vented by health nut Will Keith Kel­logg at his Bat­tle Creek sana­to­rium. The bick­er­ing tots fall asleep, all ex­cept the hel­met-haired devil child, who proves in­ef­fec­tual in the face of the gluti­nous in­ter­loper and can only mimic his laugh of tri­umph. “Ho! Ho! Ho!” she says, chill­ingly.

Toys R Us’s an­i­mated fun fac­tory

Sce­nario: A gi­raffe runs a toy em­po­rium staffed by chil­dren. This ad­vert isn’t ex­plic­itly Christ­massy, un­less you think an an­i­mal­is­tic fig­ure­head over­see­ing a fac­tory of child labour­ers is Christ­massy. It’s cer­tainly hor­ri­fy­ingly hon­est. Then again, the very name of this institution is an ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenge. “Toy’s R Us” is, if you think about it, just an­other way of say­ing “We are But Play­things” But play­things for whom? The cos­mos? God? The gi­raffe-faced au­to­crat that the sound­track calls “Jef­frey”? The ques­tion is not an­swered in the ad. We may never know. Sleep well chil­dren!

Bud­weiser! Horses! Christ­mas!

Cly­des­dales are big horses who wear leg­warm­ers like the kids from Fame but un­like the kids from Fame do not break into song. In this ad, th­ese camp, con­fi­dent beasts pull a sleigh through the snow to the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of a sleigh bell-en­hanced Christ­mas tune. If this ad ap­pears to ring with au­then­tic­ity it’s be­cause this is how Bud­weiser is ac­tu­ally made: big horses trudge through snow un­til the melt­ing sludge runs into Beach­wood-aged cas­kets. Yum!

Coca-Cola teaches the world to sing, Christ­mas edi­tion

Coca Cola de­clares its do­min­ion over all the races in this yule­tide it­er­a­tion of their clas­sic ad­vert (the ad the Mad­Men fi­nale im­plied was writ­ten by Don Draper), by get­ting hand­some peo­ple to hold a can­dle-lit vigil on a hill­side while singing about end­ing both home­less­ness and Coke­less­ness. So far, so 1970s and utopian. And yet... there are no old peo­ple on the hill­side. And there are cer­tainly no 40-year-old pop cul­ture jour­nal­ists on the hill­side. What hap­pened to the old-peo­ple of the hill­side, Coca-Cola? And what the hell is your se­cret in­gre­di­ent any­way? Is it “peo­ple”? I know your game.

A clown­ish stranger ice-skates with your chil­dren for McDon­alds

The plot of this clas­sic ad is pretty straight­for­ward: The clown from Stephen King’s It ar­rives at a frozen lake to mar­shal a group of ice-skat­ing young­sters, pre­sum­ably so he can spirit them off to the king­dom of damned chil­dren where he rests and feeds. An­i­mated an­i­mals look on help­lessly as this flame-haired icon of mad­ness drags th­ese help­less mites across the icy lake. One lit­tle boy has been left be­hind. “I want to go to the king­dom of damned chil­dren too!” his sad eyes seem to say. But the ter­ri­fy­ing ap­pari­tion has not for­got­ten the boy. He comes back to spin him around while sport­ing a mer­ci­lessly red-lipped grin. “Happy Hol­i­days!” sings a voiceover, but it doesn’t men­tion which hol­i­day, so I pre­sume it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of Baal or who­ever McDon­alds board-mem­bers wor­shipped in 1986 (Full dis­clo­sure: I may be al­low­ing my fear of clowns af­fect my read­ing of the text).

Tesco ad about the ag­ing process

De­creas­ingly grainy fake home movies fol­low a couple through suc­ces­sive happy Christ­masses to the hor­ror of lonely, voyeuris­tic old men with tele­scopes. The ad con­cludes with our every­man hero, now aged and close to death, sit­ting with a grand­child on his lap and the words “Tesco: Ev­ery Lit­tle Helps” on the screen and not the words: “I la­ment my lost youth.” John Lewis pulled the same trick with their Only a Woman ad­vert in 2010. At Christ­mas we love to con­tem­plate the re­lent­less, mer­ci­less pas­sage of time.

Sains­bury’s ad about how Christ­massy war is

Look how hand­some men of dif­fer­ing na­tion­al­i­ties can share chocolate in the midst of war? Why are we not all like the hand­some men? War is bad. Chocolate is good. Sains­bury’s sell chocolate.

ESB ad fea­tur­ing nascent Alan Hughes

To the strains of Dusty Spring­field’s I Think I’m Go­ing Back, a young man is col­lected from a ru­ral train sta­tion and driven slowly to the fam­ily home where his mammy is us­ing lots of elec­tric­ity. She’s go­ing mad for the elec­tric­ity, wan­der­ing around plug­ging ev­ery­thing in. Mean­while, the young­ster stares re­flec­tively out the win­dow of the car con­tem­plat­ing how he will, one day, host Fam­ily For­tunes on TV3. Some­how even back in the 1980s, I could tell this was des­tined to hap­pen just by watch­ing the ad. I felt like Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone, so I did.

‘Happy Hol­i­days!’ sings a voiceover, but it doesn’t men­tion which hol­i­day, so I pre­sume it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of Baal or who­ever McDon­alds board-mem­bers wor­shipped in 1986

War is bad. Chocolate is good. Sains­bury’s sell chocolate

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