The Hell of Amazon, Scrunch Or Fold and AI Adverts
This week, a triumvirate to make you wince, make you nauseous and make you very afraid.
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The Nerve - And The Hell - Of Amazon
An advert attempting to reposition one of the most famously hideous employers since the Roman army into a place of rainbow dust, pixie farts and beatific joy is one of the most sinister rebrandings since social media dickheads turned Auschwitz into the backdrops of their latest #livingmybestlife Instagram posts.
The sheer brass neck – not to mention brass balls, brass spleen and brass nipples of this – bears some consideration: Amazon is under fire for multiple deaths of its contract workers, not to mention repeated suicidal crises and frighteningly high injury rates at its
sweatshops piss-drenched “fulfilment centres”, described by one former worker as “isolating colon[ies] of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence”.
Amazon, as we all know, contributed £87.50, some cardboard boxes and a DVD boxset of Young Sheldon in UK taxes since 2005, despite earning over twelvety trillion dollarpounds per second. So its reimagining as a purveyor of workplace satisfaction akin to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is a work of such obscene propaganda that George Orwell momentarily came back to life, gave a Reith Lecture on the redundancy of his entire body of work and threw himself into an Amazon cardboard shredder in protest.
It’s not simply a bad advert, nor a mere body blow against human decency, it’s a kind of evil so pure it should be confined to a jar and guarded by a gang of priests in a church crypt.
AI Has Some Way To Go Before Putting Everyone In Copywriting Out Of A Job
Two genuinely terrifying AI-created adverts: one for pizza; one for beer. Both mind-fuckingly unsettling – and effortlessly worse than anything the human mind could come up with, though the Diet Coke ad from a few years back comes kind close.
I can’t identify whoever originated these spots, but suffice to say they won’t be making anyone in advertising too twitchy at the moment. The uncanny valley of humans interacting with food and drink (and presumably other things in close proximity to their faces in the deepfake community) shows up the relative infancy of this technology, while the presence of torrents of fire and what appear to be several partygoers dancing while set alight in the beer ad is enough to make you wonder just what sort of evil lurks in generative AI.
Meanwhile the pizza ad, for a fictional joint called Hug Spot, has obviously had 30 years worth of American Pizza Hut ads poured into its gaping maw and come up with a lo-fi horror film detailed in monotone by an disinterested mafiosa with an impacted bowel.
As rough – if inept and weird – approximations of what these things have looked like over the last few decades go they’re kind of near the ballpark, if 20-odd miles away and the satnav is on the blink. But why would anyone think more mashed-up stuff of the same is akin to creative copywriting? For an industry that lives and dies by its creativity it’s (as yet) unclear why anyone thinks generative AI that works through regurgitating existing stuff is going to pose a threat to anyone engaged in genuinely creative advertising copy. Yet.
The web, particularly Twitter, is full of weird tech-bros gleefully predicting the end of everything due to Artificial Intelligence, in the style of people who think any form of disruption is necessarily A Good Thing without pausing to wonder what might follow. Like the spinning jenny, printing press or the web itself, AI will certainly come to change the landscape of advertising – though rumours of the copywriter’s demise may be hasty. The question is how long will it take? By the time we found out, the imminent demise of the ad jobs sector might be a footnote in whatever happens next.
Still we can all have a good laugh at ‘make tummy happy’ for now.
From The Vaults: Andrex
So, it’s come to this. Scrunch Or Fold. A mainstream TV ad that wants to kick-start a dialogue about how we wipe our arses. I suppose we had a foretaste of this with Dawn Porter’s asswipe odyssey (Dawn cropped up in the comments to let me know she’d earned a lot more than ten grand for the campaign, proving – as someone pointed out – that you can put a price on dignity) but that was a drop in the, er, ocean compared to this.
There’s so much to be said about this: about how absurd it is; about where this kind of thing can be taken to in terms of extremes; or why Rob Brydon agreed to take on a job that directly aligns him with faeces in the minds of viewers. Seriously, go on, just imagine that: after five minutes of grunting, plopping and exhaling, Rob Brydon tearing off some Andrex toilet paper, reaching around to his hairy ginger ringpiece and smearing his poo around with it. Not a pleasant idea, eh? Well don’t blame me – blame Andrex.
Fundamentally, this is a terrible advert – born of some dreadful, half-formed notion that social media has a part to play in encouraging people to discuss bog roll. People get interactive about stuff they like: media, food, gadgets. They do not like to get interactive about the contents of their bowels.
What can possibly go through the minds of people buying toilet paper? At the most practical level, something like: “Christ, I’m not paying that much on something I will literally flush down the toilet”. Perhaps next, something along the lines of: “Were I to drag this paper across my arsehole, would it hurt?”.
And that’s it. Brands prosper here because they’re present in your head, because of an association – and that’s it. Not for any other reason. No meaningful brand loyalty, no appreciation of one over another because, let’s face it, there’s a glass ceiling to how pleasant wiping your bum gets.
People need to buy bog roll. They don’t buy it because they really like it. And, more than likely, the same goes for shitting into a toilet: a function like breathing, sweating or shedding skin. There’s a reason people don’t tend to draw attention to their bowel movements; why they don’t leave the dinner table, a work meeting or the marital bed with a cheery “Just going for a shite!”
Canesten, Imodium, cranberry juice, Illustrated Tiny Swimsuit Monthly – we all know what they’re for and we’ve made a compact that we don’t discuss these things. Why? Because there’s absolutely no need. Everyone understands what they’re for – and understands that there is no necessity to make those uses explicit.
It’s the equivalent of drawing attention, in a social environment, to someone who has just spent longer than usual at the toilet. Loudly commenting on someone’s body odour or an attempt at surreptitious wind-breaking; publicly revealing that someone owns a voluminous collection of exotic pornography or has a massive purple dildo in their bedside cabinet. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these things, but they’re generally not things that we enjoy the attention of others being drawn to.
We strike a deal with the people who provide us with medicines, palliatives, sanitary products, sex and other things we may be embarrassed about buying: don’t ask – don’t tell. It’s our little secret. They agree to skirt around the fact that our bodies require us to do things that we may not want to discuss and, in return, we agree to keep buying their wares.
With Scrunch Or Fold, Andrex has blown this dynamic wide open. The ad itself is excruciating to watch (oh, God, the ukuleles) but the whole concept behind it all is so misguided, so wrong that it beggars belief. And that’s before Stacey Solomon turns up.
Some will laud the scrunch or fold advert for breaking taboos and thinking the unthinkable – such things are routinely, unthinkingly, acclaimed in marketing circles. For some reason no-one at Andrex, or whoever produced this campaign, has pondered the fact that ‘thinking the unthinkable’ means, in this case, making people picture wiping a shitty arse with a piece of paper – while they retch into their cornflakes.
RIP Peter Martin
Noted character actor Peter Martin merged with the infinite last month and it inspired me to track down some of his ads, given he enjoyed a career that started off in advertising before graduating into TV and films (you might have spotted him in The Royle Family, Emmerdale or Brassed Off among other things).
Martin was known for playing the Jewson man, a timber-obsessed northerner who probably kept pigeons in his bath and coal in his underpants. In the first advert below, Martin and a co-star demonstrate what might be the first example of keyword stuffing ever seen in an advert.
In the second, he dances a little Jewson jig. They’re rather lovely and provide a hefty whack of nostalgia. Martin was an archetype in most of his appearances: fun, impish, canny – as we say in the north. Farewell, then, Peter. Now you are Jewson dead.
🍔 In the 90s McDonalds hired a fine-dining chef to create something called an ‘elite burger’ and then spent a cool $200m advertising the resulting Arch Deluxe – a burger that sounds like a posho from 1930s Bloomsbury but wasn’t disgusting as the rest of its menu. This article on Pocket has the full story.
💩 More ‘they’re all just really dreadful people aren’t they?’ news, your favourite celebrities (by which I really mean your least favourite celebrities) are pretending to be normal people in order to dupe you into buying more shit you don’t need. ‘The majority of celebrity photos you're seeing out there likely feature some sort of paid placement from a brand,’ says someone in this article on the hateful subject.
📺 The Channel 4 doc Mad Women covered the women of advertising and was full of triumphalism about disrupting advertising’s male gaze. Quite right too, though they showed rather less self-awareness about their pivotal role in an economic system that will end life on Earth as we know it.
🍆 A man from a town called Dildo found an iceberg that looked like a cock-and-balls.
If you buy a soulless Australian showhome from the 80s you might get to have sex with your wife in the bath.
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