Commercials ‘r’ us


So you think you can think? That’s what some of us would like to ask after watching yet another odd TV commercial. Sometimes, the television set is like a marketplace where every trader is bombarding you with their wares –good or bad. It’s easy to be fooled in the heat of the moment and, on a whim, buy something you don’t need.

In my senior secondary school days, I never listened much in the Commerce class especially since I only sat it out because I was one of two students in the entire set not taking the course.

But I remember listening intently during one class on TV advertisements, their advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages was that commercials were notorious for interrupting an interesting programme. This was in the days when some Nigerian, Mexican, Brazilian or American soap opera was showing primetime on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

It was only natural that a dislike for commercials would develop, despite my understanding that all ‘na to sell market.’

The creativity displayed in some of the commercials are not in doubt, nor can I fault the cinematography and sound quality expended on some of them, but those taglines, the forced eloquence and lack of originality can literally drive you up the wall.

So why are some of these commercials memorable and others are not? I think we know why, especially from the psychological angle.

Basically, the function of a commercial includes getting people to buy a product or keeping a brand in reckoning. So the job of a copy writer is supposedly hard, right? Well, that’s relative. All that is expected of them is to wrap up information about their product in a most enticing manner and make you fall for their brand. Not enticing in the sense of the beef roll advert that suggested “Comot my wrapper take enjoy me,” but in a tempting enough manner that should convince you to buy.

Imagine you were the man or the woman with the commission to write a copy for the old Vim commercial that was on air in the early nineties. All he had to do was tell us “To keep your kitchen shining bright, all you need is Vim.” Or the Super Kings radio commercial: Super Kings Super Kings, Virginia Tobacco, na correct Tobacco, im taste na Super, Super, Super Enjoyment. Whether na Regular or Menthol.’ Pure and simple.

We can however consider the job of a copy writer hard. One, because it takes hard work to convince people and secondly, the stress and pressure of trying to outdo your colleagues calls for some intense brainwork. Most of us work under such circumstances and it definitely won’t take a random genius to come up with a tagline to ‘Go. Everywhere.’ I mean, really?! It was a bit humorous during the 2008 African Nations Cup when ‘Ghana must GO’ and ‘GO HOME’ gave a nice tilt to the cheers of ‘Go Nigeria.’ But outside that context, the concept did seem a bit lame.

I remember the days before every commercial was shot in South Africa. Back then it was fun picking out a face you recognised from a movie, a TV series or simply on the street. Nowadays you are left with an unfamiliar face and an unfamiliar accent trying to sell you a local product in a local language or in some odd-sounding Pidgin English. It has since become apparent that it wasn’t only the faces that changed, the sense behind some of these ads has also changed.

Some of us remember the Omo ad because we sometimes felt like the other girl whose mother didn’t use Omo. But at some point in my life that tagline ‘Omo, Super blue Omo, washes even brighter and it shows’ made no sense to me. If you said this detergent washed both whites and coloured, why on earth would I want my coloured outfits to be washed brighter? Didn’t that mean they would start to fade if I used Omo? Didn’t matter much anyway, since Omo was what we used at home. My school uniform was green, there was a number of blue denim shorts and trousers amongst other coloured outfits, and I honestly can’t remember them fading. However, my whites developed a blue shimmer whenever I used Omo. Later on, someone compounded my consternation and changed the line to ‘Washes whites whiter and coloureds brighter.’  Some overpaid ‘genius’ didn’t sell Omo to me but being the ‘best’ brand in the market, we bought it anyway.

In more recent times I have had cause to laugh after watching the Mimee Noodles advert. Fine, kids were struck by the energetic ‘boom sha sha’ of the advert, but I managed to look beyond that and wonder how or why anyone would serve noodles at their child’s matriculation ceremony. The ad did seem a bit odd but for the fact that the sing-along song had ‘bootie’ and the kids loved it: it functioned in building the Mimee brand.

In the same vein, I can’t fathom how I became an avid Multivite fan after seeing the commercial. All I needed to hear was the opening notes of ‘Multivite tablets for adults, syrups for children and drops for babies’ and I’d be rushing towards the TV screen in time to hear ‘multi-Multi-MULTIVITE!’ In a strange way it always sent me on a high. A high that could only be deflated when the M&B 5 advert came on air. The voice over would go into this echoing of ‘M&B, M&B, FIVE, FIVE’ that seemed closer to something from a house of horrors. Don’t ask me if the drug is still in the market. It probably went the way of Saridon P and Pengo.

Speaking of echoes, the old futuristic ChocoMilo ad ‘re-echoed’ this. But who could fault an echo in an ad where there was a spaceship and Chocomilo rainfall?

The spaceman concept does not always work for everyone, though. The Jeleen Jelly ad proved this beyond reproach. Probably hoping to pull the Mr. Vaseline effect, in flew Captain Jeleen – cape, body suit, underpants and all- as the solution to dry skin. Superhero or not, Tolly and Lyday must have wrestled the product to the ground and kept it there. Or went down with it.

Back when animation or computer graphics was a big deal, certain adverts stood out for me. These included the ads for Super Visco Static, A-one, Vaseline (featuring our very own Mr. Vaseline) and Alagbin (for those too young to remember, it was a painkiller).

In the Super Visco ad, the car – a beautiful convertible with bulging headlights- had come to report a “belly ache and a very shaky feeling” The doctor, recognising the symptoms of ‘engine fatigue,’ swiftly prescribed Super Visco Static and all was fine and dandy. The ‘now-smiling’ car, drove into the sunset with other ‘hale and hearty’ cars. I always wished I was that car.

The same way I wished I was at the table in the A-one ad where all the condiments for the soup trailed into the kitchen. It looked like something out of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ It did well in the market until all the hue and cry about MSG confined its use mostly to Mama Puts and ‘cholera joints.’

The Alagbin ad was not particularly extraordinary, but if you could visualise your cough, cold and catarrh as huge towering blocks and this pill comes spinning like a Frisbee to bring them tumbling down, it’s easy to be grateful. However, I think the name of the drug itself didn’t do it much justice. From a Yoruba perspective, it personally translated into something that caused constipation. So I steered clear, same way I did for Alabukun Powder.

Despite having led the way with innovative ads, Venus Hair relaxer always seems to disappear from the market. It has been re-introduced into the market a number of times after its initial arrival. One of their catchy ads back then featured a woman reading a lifestyle magazine and wishing she had hair as good as that of a lady in one of the pictures. Suddenly and much unexpectedly for an ad from 1990-something, the lady in the picture starts to speak. If the lady was still talking would more people buy Venus? Maybe they just- pardon the cliché- talked the talk and didn’t walk the walk.

Without deliberately bashing, I’ve sometimes wondered the logic behind some of the Bank PHB ads. I personally think nothing’s impossible, but why would I drink water from a fuel tank just to prove a point? We also know that, thanks to Bluetooth, it’s not a groundbreaking notion to believe I can turn down the volume of a stereo set just by simulating the act! And that dictionary without an entry for the word ‘impossible’ should be thrown out with the trash!

Yes, we laughed when the guy in the Daily Need advert was told his breath stank. We laughed even harder at the Florish Gel toothpaste commercial when a lady needing mouth to mouth resuscitation flees for her life after discovering the lifeguard has bad breath. But would we have come up with anything much different if we were told to craft a plot for a toothpaste commercial? I don’t think so. Same goes for the ST soap advert where a lady was furiously scratching herself at a bus stop. Though, the sight of this alone must have driven many to grab an ST soap bar.

Apparently, realising that we switched channels when certain commercials came on, the agencies switched tack. The bandwagon effect was the infusion of music in many a commercial.

All that rap and tough talk by ‘Chichaka’ from the Treetop ready-to-drink advert may have worn off but like the Oyakaka rice crispies that was a rave back in the day, the memory of the songs remains: “My name is Chichaka and I feel so very healthy thanks to Treetop Blackcurrant ready to drink, which I drink daily” and “Give us Oyakaka, we want Oyakaka…”

Still on music, did anyone ever change channels when a Coke, Sprite or Pepsi ad came on air? I doubt it. Every single ad from these brands is as clear in my mind as the day I heard it. It’s easy to remember the first Vicks Lemon Plus advert that came on air when hip hop was the music genre du jour. You could pop a drop in your mouth and imagine you were MC Hammer before he went bankrupt.

Speaking of bankruptcy, Skye Bank has used some songs in their adverts in a way that some people still don’t know the songs have original versions. IRS Airlines created a commercial from a medley of Gospel and secular songs; it takes a discerning mind to loosen the knots. Delta Soap didn’t bother remixing, they took the songs just the way they were. How ingenious can you get? The fact that I like Shakira or Lighthouse Family or Lion King does not mean I’ll patronise your brand. It actually got on my nerves that everywhere I went people were singing ‘yes to your dreams.’ In other cases, Yanni, Michael Learns To Rock and Kenny G should be rolling in royalties for the overuse, abuse and misuse of their songs (but we know better!)

On the bright side, the use of classical music in an Ecobank advert stuck with me from the first time I heard it: the memory of it and the promise of a SIM pack propelled me into opening an Ecobank account.

I am not specifically a commercial hater nor do I bear a grudge against the advertising profession. No sir! I realise the effort put into producing or shooting an ad that lasts for 30 seconds and I know it’s not meant to be excessively intellectual in order to have wide-reaching appeal. But I think copy writers can be very lazy in terms of imagination, innovation and creativity.

It’s a tough job but now I’m highly suspicious that they are taking the easy way out. As a layman, I am in no position to advise anyone to dump their winning formula. Same way I can’t be made to change my opinion that it doesn’t take an archaeologist to dig up a golden storyline or tagline for a commercial.

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