Patrick Freyne: the TV ads I’ve grown to love

Advertisements replace my recurring anxieties about death with impulses to buy stuff. Here are some of my favourites from the recent past

Sue, the passive aggressive pig in Vodafone’s ad

Sue, the passive aggressive pig in Vodafone’s ad



In this advertisement we see scenes from a couple’s life sound-tracked to the strains of You and Me by Penny and the Quarters. Then we cut to the present day where we see the same actress, apparently now elderly, sitting on a couch with a child, nostalgically perusing photographs of her absent husband. There’s a whole subgenre of ads in which people age a lifetime in a minute. The message in this one is, I think, “My husband is dead but at least I have flat-pack furniture.”

Or he may not be dead. I may have it all wrong. It may be a story about a woman whose husband has left her because she won’t stop dressing as an old lady using theatrical make-up. Either way, the key point is “at least I have flat-pack furniture” and it made me want to go to Ikea where, ironically, my own marriage then disintegrated in the lamps section just before the rugs.

Voltarol Gel

“My husband was in such pain he could barely move. Now he’s back to his old self,” says the “wife”. He is, as she speaks, strutting his stuff rather dangerously on the dance floor thanks to Volterol gel. I can’t get enough of “wife” and “husband” because I think I can intuit some pretty dark undercurrents in their relationship.

“Wife” seems pretty ambivalent about “husband’s” recovery and it’s clear to even the most naive viewer that a future of Munchausen by proxy syndrome is on the cards for “wife.” Future ads in the series (well, the ones I pitched) were considered “too dark” and didn’t focus enough on the reenergising properties of Voltarol gel.

Virgin Media

A hapless young professional babysits his three nieces and is assisted in this task by a holographic Richard Branson. This is, sadly, not the pitch for a new sitcom but an advert for looking things up on the internet. The subtext is that, no longer content with just floating through clouds, Branson the billionaire balloonist has uploaded his consciousness to the cloud. He is now a fully networked hologram, which, let’s have no doubt, was always his ultimate aim.

Currently the Branson hologram is content to “help”, but over time he will tire of our human limitations and will begin acting like the computer in Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. This is also the tagline for the next Virgin Media campaign and the name of my forthcoming opinion column.

All ads for smells

They are black and white or Technicolor or sepia and they feature lithe male torsos and/or coquettish young women hiding behind gossamer while people with aphasia speak words designed by the Military-Perfumery-Complex to evoke smelliness. My favourite one is the one where a hunk at a press conference says: “I’m not going to be the person I’m expected to be any more” which causes the glass walls of the cube in which he gives press conferences to collapse.

“I bet he smells good,” I thought and vowed to buy some smell-good fluid. I drove to the nearest garage and bought an air-freshener, which I still wear to this day.

Eircom rebrands as Eir

For ages there were two kinds of broadband ads. There were the dystopian ones that depicted the nuclear family disintegrating into atomised individualism. And there were the ones that showed having an internet connection as a qausi-religious experience.

Eir recently went for the latter approach. Here are some things the people at Eir would like you to think about when choosing your broadband provider: the GAA; mountains; children; Irish traditional music; flocks of birds at sunset; the miracle of childbirth and the sea.“Come with us,” says a warm voice. “Live life on Eir.” Which, I gather from the afore-described advert, is a new strain of heroin.

Huawei P9 (a phone) advert with Scarlett Johannson

Scarlett Johansson and Henry Cavill wander around film sets and exotic markets sending each other arty photographs using state-of-the-art telephones. The message of this ad is that Johansson and Cavill are better than you. I mean, look at the state of you. Now look at Johansson and Cavill. If it ever comes up, you should sacrifice yourself so that they may live. In the meantime, look at your phone, which is an old rotary dial landline with a Polaroid glued to it. Yes, getting a new phone will fix that horrible gnawing feeling in your gut.


It’s my favourite. A man digs some soil from the ground, which is Irish ground, agreed to be the best kind of ground. Then he has lunch with his German girlfriend and his mother, an Irish mother, agreed to be the best kind of mother. “At least we can get Kerrygold in Berlin,” says the man’s pleasant girlfriend.

“Ah sure we export all our best stuff,” says the man’s mother looking at her with disdain, for she has notions (being German).

Cut to them catching a bus out of town. “He’ll be born in Germany,” says the man in voiceover darkly as his wife/ girlfriend speaks German. “But he’ll set foot on Irish soil first.”

In my fan fiction about this ad, the child is now 15 and oppressed by the ersatz Irish identity foisted on him by his divorced father. The boy’s mother fled years before, embittered by years failing to emulate an idealised notion of rural Irish motherhood. The boy wonders sadly why, if his grandmother was so wonderful, they never return to Ireland. His father eats Kerrygold with a spoon and weeps, thinking of his youth while gazing at the Fernsehturm.

The Vodafone ads with the pig

Vodafone’s series of advertisements for their TV and broadband service were sweet when they were about an eccentric bachelor and his only friend, a small pig he found on the road. But soon he was using it to lure a much younger woman into the home. Before long, Sue, the passive aggressive pig, is ignored, as the young woman becomes fascinated by the pause function on the man’s television remote. This is like witchcraft to her and he knows that now she will be forever in his thrall and will care for him in his dotage. This ad is based, of course, on the Irish folktale The Lofty Pig Man and his Child Wife.

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