Pricewatch: Great memories come reeling back
IFI archive saves the old adverts that shaped who we were and who we wanted to be
It’s easy to age almost any Irish person by asking what their favourite ads were as a child. Hip young millennials will wistfully recall that Kellogg’s Christmas ad in which the cute blonde kid sees Santa or the Holidays Are Coming chant from the Coke people.
People of a slightly older vintage will smile as they remember that gombeen shouting: “Kate! It’s me, the guy from the bar” to promote Esat Digifone’s text messages or the Johnston Mooney & O’Brien ad with all the talk from the Connemara farmers about skinny lattes, avocado and prawn sandwiches, and Pilates.
And then really old folk, folk like Pricewatch, will grow misty eyed if you ask where’s granddad or who’s taking the horse to France and they might even burst into slightly unhinged song – with maybe a bit of an auld dance – at the mere mention of a Shake N’ Vac.
It puts the freshness back, you know.
All these ads were meant to be ephemeral but they have endured, in many cases, long, long after the products they were promoting have gone to the great retail depot in the sky.
They matter because they remind us what we once were or wished to be
And they matter because they remind us what we once were or wished to be. That is why the recent work done by the archivists at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) which has seen thousands of ads that appeared on Irish television screens in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s saved from extinction really matters.
The IFI Irish Film Archive spent years storing, digitising, restoring and preserving a massive collection of 35mm film television ads which had been left rotting and growing mould in damp warehouses across the State for decades. The process involved a painstaking frame-by-frame assessment, extensive physical and chemical conservation, scanning and digital restoration and it cost in excess of €300,000.
It is, in the view of Pricewatch at any rate, great value for money, if only because the lengthy process saved two ads which would otherwise have been lost forever.
One is for Odorono, a hugely popular deodorant that was imported from the US in the 1960s.
Back then most Irish people didn’t have a clue what deodorant was so the ad had to dispense with subtle messages and seductive promises of wild sex (as if that was a thing in Ireland in the 1960s) if people wore it.
Instead the Odorono ad gave it to us straight. It featured a woman recently returned from America explaining to her colleague in the factory that the reason she had no friends was because she smelled but if she used Odorono she would stop smelling and then she would have friends.
The good news is that it worked and before you could say “screw you and your fancy Dan American ways” the smelly one was fresh and clean and off camping with new friends.
The other amazing ad in the IFI archive is for the Ronson Escort 2000. It is a hair dryer but not any old hair dryer, it is one that comes with a shoulder strap. There’s more. “With its amazing little dial it lets you set exactly the temperature you want so you’ll feel nice while making your hair look nice,” a soothing man’s voice, which probably belongs in a Pathe reel (ask your grandparents, Millennials) says.
He then concludes his message with the words: “Apart from a mink coat, what else could a girl want?”
Ireland of the time
“All these ads tell us a lot about Ireland of the time,” says the head of the IFI Irish Film Archive Kasandra O’Connell. “Back then advertising had a huge influence on shaping who we were and what we were becoming, far more so than nowadays. Today everyone has remote controls and we can pause live television and stream and fast forward through ads but back then most people only had one channel and they certainly didn’t have remote controls. So the impact was much bigger.”
Having watched all the ads in the archive, she can easily identify the passing of time. The 1960s ads were educational (if you can call an ad featuring a woman wandering about her living room wearing a mink coat with a hair drier the size of Leitrim strapped to her shoulder educational). In the 1970s and 1980s they became more aspirational with ads for travel operators like JWT and fancier cars appearing more frequently.
While they were slicker, they were also seedier, O’Connell says. “Some of the ads were completely bonkers. Like the Schweppes Slimline Tonic ads. One featured a woman being ogled by a whole bunch of men in the street. She was absolutely delighted with herself and the smug head on her when she catches the eye of other women looking at her enviously because she is being leered at by all strangers, it’s just crazy.”
While most of us look at the ads of the past with casual interest, Mark Hogan, managing director of Owens DBB, one of Ireland’s leading ad agencies, appraises them more carefully. His favourite ad from back in the day was “probably the Hamlet ads, you know the ones where something would go wrong and the guy would just relax and settle back as Bach’s Air On G String wafted over him.”
He also recalls Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins advertising Cinzano Bianco – ads which usually involved her spilling fortified wine all over her chest . “The funny thing about those ads was most people thought they were for Martini, which just happened to be Cinzano’s biggest rival. So they were both hugely memorable and terrible for the actual brand.
You always want your brand to be spoken about in a positive way in social settings and in the vernacular, that is when it has the most impact
“The goal is always to create an ad that will have people talking about it in the office,” says. “You always want your brand to be spoken about in a positive way in social settings and in the vernacular, that is when it has the most impact.”
You just don’t want people giving the credit for your clever or funny ads to your bitterest rival.
When asked to pick ads from more recent times which he believes have had that impact and will have a long afterlife, Hogan barely hesitates before mentioning Aer Lingus and Johnston Mooney & O’Brien.
It is not hard to see why they come to mind. Watching it back, the Aer Lingus ad almost brings a tear to stoney-hearted Pricewatch’s eye. It is beautifully simple. To the strains of Gabriel’s Oboe (a wildly popular funeral song these days, incidentally), there are multiple shots of people – families, crew, business folk and children in airports and on planes. They are hugging, sleeping and working. Although there are no words the ad is busy for the first 55 seconds. The last five seconds are taken up by an Aer Lingus flight attendant carefully repositioning a blanket over a sleeping child as the words “You’re Home” appear on the screen.
Back then that was what boarding an Aer Lingus plane in the US felt like. As soon as you were in your seat, you felt like you were home.
The Johnston Mooney & O’Brien favours humour over sentiment. There are two Connemara farmers – a father and son, most likely – building a stone wall as the wife/mammy walks along a boreen carrying a tray. The twist is that their lunch is made up of avocado and prawn sandwiches, green tea and a skinny latte. Then the son’s mobile rings and he explains to the unidentified caller that he has his “Pilates tonight”. It is quite a brilliant marriage of the old and the new.
“I think one of the mistakes modern advertisers make is they try to make ads too complex and information heavy. That is often because clients want to squeeze as much information into them as possible,” Hogan says. “And that’s understandable. Ads are expensive but all that information comes at the expense of simplicity. Ultimately, a good add focuses on simplicity, single-mindedness and charm.”
He asks Pricewatch for a modern ad we love. We have the answer ready. It’s a Carlsberg ad which has Ireland winning the World Cup. It is perfect. We beat Spain and Argentina and England in the semi-finals (Ian Harte scores a penalty). Then, in the final against Brazil, Jason McAteer scores the winner with a screamer. “Carlsberg don’t do dreams . . .” the voice over says. And you can guess the last few words.
By complete coincidence, the ad was made by Owens DBB. “To produce an ad even one for a big international company you have to get some of the local vernacular into it, that is when it will resonate, that’s when it’s going to hit home,” Hogan says.
It helps when we win the World Cup in them too, mind you.
The ads you love
We asked Twitter users for their favourite ads from times past. The response was massive. Here are just a selection of the comments we got.
The Penneys Christmas ad, little boy waiting for Santa. Penney’s, have a whole lot of things for Christmas, got a lot for the family – Robyn Coleman
Clarks ‘Magic Shoes’ ad. My cousin’s neighbour had the shoes and it was the first time I was seething with jealousy in my life. Remember seeing the shoes in the ‘flesh’ for the first time and being LIVID. The Caramel bunny was the ultimate chocolate icon to be fair – Sharon Ní Icí
Born Mash, Get Smash, with all the robots dancing – Maryrose Lyons
The Corn Flakes Christmas ad. I was the same age as the little blonde girl in it when it came out and looked exactly like her – Claire Gorman
The Clarks magic shoes, Kellogg cornflakes Christmas ad, Lemsip laughing policeman ad, An Post walking in the snow, Kia Ora orange – Maria McMahon
“Where’s Grandad? “ I think it was a Water Safety ad – Jim Fogarty
Harp ‘Sally O’Brien and the way she might look at you’. Always liked the Peter Stuyvesant Pan Am ad. Weird since I hate Harp and don’t smoke – David Fox
ESB coming home ad. Very evocative music and setting – Brian Cahalane
Bisto, Smash, BT with Maureen Lipman, Frys Turkish Delight, very exotic – Denise O’Reilly
I used to sing “Ohhh Bodyform, Bodyform for you” as an innocent kid with no idea what it meant, my poor mother – Eoin Holohan
Judge from @LambertPuppet doing the safe cross code and the roller skating pandas, the angel and devil having a break for Kit Kat – Julianne Savage