A bunch of robotic aliens return from a visit to earth, puzzled and somewhat tickled by the earthling’s habit of peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes, rather than simpl adding boiling water to Cadbury’s Smas . Later episodes have them roaring with laughter over our cooking programmes, which have us persisting in using these old-fashioned techniques.
In the latter half of the 20th century we were fascinated by anything called ‘new‘. Being the cheapest and simplest way of promoting inadequate products. the word was placed in front of the names of coffee brands. washing powders. even political parties to bring a futuristic spin to an old product. The mechanical aliens are the sharp end of this movement.
This commercial is very much of its period. as the 70s were the last point at which mechanisation could be seen as bringing progress. rather than a threat to your job. In a time where few desks had computers on them. and Tammi-(M‘s World was a ratings-grabber. there seemed nothing but fun in the future.
Aliens too. were no longer threatening. as they had been in endless 505 sci-fi movies. Pre-Alien. the future was seen through such memorable and endearing devices as the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen‘s Sleeper. What better time then. to endorse a product through its appropriateness to advanced civilisation?
Chimpanzees take the place of people, enacting a succession of familiar comic ruses in mock-suburban situations. Here, the chief chimp attempts to orchestrate getting a piano down some stairs.
In the PG Tips campaign. we learn to treasure versions of our own banal lives. Again superiority is a factor. since we see chimps going through the activities of our own quotidian suburban existence. We feel better about ourselves by the reassuring notion of this species using our language and doing our everyday chores but with the inbuilt inferiority of lower primates. Monkey tea. monkey do has inbuilt comic possibilities. as well as stressing that it’s not us in the zoo.
This is an example of dealing with a ’7? x " ﬁonkeying around ‘ is the key toa ‘ ‘ perfect cuppa
8 THE “ST 27 Apr—ll May 2000
Our‘metal cousins ' ’ ‘ were clearly
smashed out of
product whose workaday nature needs to stay in touch with its rather dull context. but somehow heighten it. This is why in other tea commercials, the woman comes home to her very ordinary flat in black and white and turns to colour as she sips her Nambarrie. and the cafe manager adds just a little spice to the passing workers in her teashop with Scottish Blend.
In the days of animal liberation, the comic. animated pudgy little men in the Tetley’s ad are the nearest we get to monkeys but the principle is the same; to advertise tea. you’ve got to make people feel good about their ostensibly dull lives by showing inferior creatures doing the same thing.
A woman briefly introduces a vacuum cleaning powder then goes throu h a succession of epileptic jerks whic could pass for dancing. She repeatedly chants the jingle: ’Do the Shake ’n’ Vac to put the freshness back’.
The phrase we all remember is: ‘Do the Shake ’n‘ Vac’. but the following phrase: ‘Put the freshness back’ is. in many ways. far more significant. Here. the carpet‘s lack of freshness is metaphorical, locating a staleness in the mundane suburban world represented. Again. it is an attempt to render suburbia glamorous through consumption.
This is on one level. a simple 2CK commercial (a revealingly demeaning bit of
advertising jargon meaning Two Cunts in a
Kitchen). There is, of course, no second woman. as there is in so many domestic
cleaner commercials (witness the Birds OfA Feather washing powder ad as a current example of an old tradition). but she communicates. we assume. to a female audience.
But there‘s a second level. for she is a glamorous and sexy woman. yet housewifely. Being larger than life. but smaller than wife, the actress Jenny Young. also appeals to her male audience. This complex crossover may account for the pieces extraordinary success. Ms Young reveals that she was nauseous throughout the shoot: having seen this commercial. we might feel empathy. rather than sympathy.
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