Put the Irish in the Olympic ad breaks - because we're worth it


Surely Procter & Gamble could give us a washing powder ad that doesn’t give the impression that Ireland are happy just to be there

PERHAPS WE shouldn’t be looking to washing-powder ads for a booster shot of national self-esteem, but, really, Ariel could have at least tried to help us out. Its current TV ad features athletes in various Olympian states: running, bouncing, cartwheeling, puffing their cheeks, splashing powder on their hands, bowing to ecstatic crowds. And these athletes come from all over the world. They are not the usual citizens of the Republic of Nondescript; instead they wear identifiable gear: China, South Africa, Great Britain. Yet there are no Irish.

So be it. Even if it is suspiciously heavy on Team GB for an Irish audience, perhaps we shouldn’t be overly precious. It is clearly one of those international ads: filmed once, adapted many times. And so it turns out. Britain has a version. Kenya has a version. But here’s the thing: in each of those territories, Ariel has signed off on a whooping, leaping, flag-clutching local athlete, celebrating glory on the greatest stage of all.

The Irish version? We wave a flag. That’s at the opening ceremony. Our athletes in their suits. The selling point is that Ariel is keeping the flag clean. For what? The closing ceremony, it seems.

The insinuation appears to be that the flag will be washed after the opening ceremony, but they’d want to have a tumble dryer on hand, because the tricolour won’t be fluttering in the breeze during the actual games.

This is a consequence of catch-all ads for every market, with a bit tacked on for the locals. Euro 2012 ads are a cinch in comparison. We’re familiar with that drill. Mad fans, familiar players, veteran commentators, nostalgia, competitions, tricolours, plastic hammers, pubs, Official Sock Elastic to the Irish Football Team, all of that. Many of the ads are made here, specifically for Ireland, so that you feel it really could be you in that tricolour unitard.

Still, by the end of the tournament we’ll be all too familiar with those bland and blank ads that can be shown across Europe. Terraces of slogan-free shirts, face paint unsmeared by beer and tears, good-looking women in the crowd, wordless chants, that sort of thing.

They are usually applicable to every nationality. Except us. Because, as was the case during the Champions League, when you see three guys in perfectly tailored suits, on a sofa as soft as their hair, watching a football match while gripping a green beer bottle in their hands, you know they’re in neither Drimnagh nor Dingle. They’d get chased out of their own house for watching football looking like that.

Olympic ads take such multiterritory blandness to another level. Although, before that, they must push tie-ins to gold-medal silliness.

Ariel’s owner, Procter & Gamble – an official sponsor with a vast portfolio of brands – is proving to be a bit of a Usain Bolt in this regard. Its Head Shoulders ad currently strives to make a connection between Olympic success and washing your hair. It features Michael Phelps linking Olympic glory with the confidence he gets from not being snow-shouldered.

It also appears, inadvertently, to suggest that Phelps washes his hair before he swims. Perhaps they could just fill the swimming pool with shampoo, ensuring world records every time.

The particular line of shampoo is branded Active Sport, feeding men’s supposed gullibility to even the most everyday products as long as they have Active or Extreme slapped on it. Since the 1990s, when men started buying their own shower gel, this has become a staple of toiletries. Just throwing a jet or a sports star – or a sports star in a jet – at a product will add a cachet unrelated to the actuality of the product.

Gillette (another P&G brand) became a pioneer in this, when it linked Tiger Woods’s golf success with the aerodynamism afforded by a triple-bladed razor.

The point of all of this is that if P&G can make these ludicrous leaps of the marketing imagination, then surely it could give us a washing-powder ad that doesn’t give the impression that Ireland are happy just to be there.

We mightn’t top the medal chart, but we’re not there simply to exhaust ourselves by waving too exuberantly at the opening ceremony. We don’t need reminding of our place in the grand scheme of things before the games have even begun.

Truth in Advertising is one thing; the Truth Hurts in Advertising is another altogether.

Twitter: @shanehegarty

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