The Kick In The Teeth Of Daytime TV Advertising

Awful aspirationalism, guilt-tripping grifters and insults to even the most undeveloped of intelligence – British TV advertising on daytime TV is a bombardment of dreadfulness.

“Get a little savage with it.”

“You came to slay this.”

“You crushed it.”

You might think, reading this, that these were slogans bellowed by mighty warriors leading their troops into battle, not some gobshite as she leads a sweaty collection of the middle-classes as they wheeze away on overpriced exercise bikes, egged on by impersonal trainers, the sort who will look at their screens every so often, clock a name and shout out “you’re doing great, Dexter in Stoke Newington” even if Dexter is gasping his way through the session, his pot-soaked lungs unable to keep up with his lockdown ambition to get fit even though his jolly interesting job in media never previously required him to do any more exercise than walking to the craft beer bar and back.

This is not the place to talk about whether Peleton is an overpriced system aimed at awful people who feel that they need a personal trainer to keep them in shape for those weekend cocaine binges, but can’t quite afford an actual person to come round every morning. Peleton systems are clearly seen as a status symbol by people with more money than sense, fragile self-esteem and no will power – because otherwise, why not just get a regular exercise bike from Argos and have done with it? Do you really need some stranger shouting insincere platitudes at you before you’ll get on your bike? Who on Earth is watching these commercials and thinking “yes, that looks aspirational” and reaching for the credit card? Well, quite a few I guess, but I’ll wager that they are mostly not watching Tales of the Unexpected on Sky Arts at 9.30 in the morning.

I watch more TV than I would like, not through choice but because it is always on when I leave our ‘office’ and venture out into the living room. It’s a long story. In any case, this has given me the chance to catch up on episodes of various vintage shows of some worth, but it also means that I have been forced to sit through endless commercials for all manner of unbearable shit, of which Peleton is just the bizarre icing on the cake. What’s perhaps most odd about the Peleton ads is that they often pop up in the middle of a series of commercials that are otherwise less about getting fit and more about preparing for death. It’s notable that a year of coronavirus and people working at home has not otherwise affected the TV schedules or the ads they attract one jot – everything during the day is still aimed almost entirely at those who are, shall we say, in their twilight years. Perhaps that’s just the channels I watch – no doubt E4 is full of ads for Boohoo clothing and the like.

Anyway.

Once upon a time, I was reasonably willing to buy into the idea that advertising was an art form. At no point was an ad break anything less than an unwanted irritation, but at least there was a sense of ambition that you could see at work. But the ads of daytime TV are so uniformly awful, you have to wonder if there is actual piss-taking at work. Certainly, the Sun Life insurance ads are so transcendently badly acted that it seems impossible that not only could this have gone unnoticed, but that any would be able to find so many wooden actors. Perhaps there is an agency for bad actors, doomed forever to appear in ads where they unconvincingly have conversations about life insurance.

Life insurance is a big thing in daytime advertising – everyone telling you to get it before it’s too late and don’t bother to question how much value for money it is – if it will even cover the costs of a funeral. Bearing this in mind, pre-paid funerals are also popular advertising choices, some making a virtue of how cheap and basic they are. I suppose if you want a basic cremation, probably not even involving a coffin, these are just the thing, but sometimes whole ad breaks seem to be telling the viewer that they are on borrowed time, and well, you can’t take it with you can you? On this basis, the most insidious ads are from charities asking people to leave them all their money when they die (and don’t you dare hang around too long after you’ve made that will). That these are often the most dubious of charities – the ones that seem to spend fortunes on fancy ad campaigns and political lobbying but rarely seem to make a difference to the problems that they ostensibly exist to combat – is no surprise. They have long since shown themselves to be shameless.

The other charity ads that dominate daytime TV also want your money, but they want it now, and so every break will be a parade of misery, nothing but children and animals with hideous injuries and terrible diseases being exploited by heartless foreigners. The age of the colonialist is alive and well in the charity market, with us expected to rush in to save people and animals in third world countries, while the issues of just why these things are taking place are quietly brushed over. Just sign up to a direct debit, ask no questions and your liberal guilt will be assuaged, while the broader problems will go on and on, ensuring lucrative charity jobs and more Peleton customers for years to come.

Look, we know that all advertising is ultimately about draining your money from you and into the pockets of businesses. But at least most of it is about convincing you that Product A is better than Product B – it doesn’t try to guilt you out in the process. The fact is that daytime TV advertising is aimed at people who probably don’t have a lot of money, the idle rich and comfortably-off pensioner aside. It then tries to shame that money out of them with the relentless determination of the telephone scam artist, not mentioning that their weekly contribution will most likely be swallowed up by administration, wages and more advertising. That the money they tell you “will make all the difference” is actually making no difference whatsoever because if it did, why are they still asking for it year in, year out? Take a look at where your charity money actually goes and you might well end up feeling a bit of a chump.

I imagine that daytime TV is the only companion that many old people have. And it does nothing but mock their infirmity, remind them of their mortality, guilt-trip them over their privilege and insult their intelligence every ten minutes. Perhaps we need TV advertising to be restricted to the five-second bursts seen on YouTube clips, forcing it to get to the point rather than labouring it. As it stands, right now the best way a charity, insurance company or other hard-sell business can ensure that it’ll never see a penny from me is to continue with this ghoulish, smug daytime promotion. There are charities doing good work – vital work – who don’t spend vast sums on advertising and multiple layers of bureaucracy. Give them your money. There are better ways of saving towards funeral costs – look into those. There are more effective ways of keeping fit – go for them. Don’t reward the cynics, the exploiters and the grifters of daytime TV.

DAVID FLINT

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2 comments

  1. Reminds me of Bill Hicks’ kindly advice to his audiences 30 years ago, “By the way, if any of you work in advertising or marketing…..kill yourself.”

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