Reporting Jonathon Sharp
Why would you want to watch 150 British commercials?
Well, in the case of the British Arrows Awards, which are playing at the Walker for almost all of December, you might want to because watching a bunch of foreign commercials is similar to seeing a strange movie made up entirely of fictional advertisements. There are products featured that you’ll never buy; there are seemingly famous people whose names you don’t know; and there are a lot of voices that just sound more sophisticated than yours. And somehow this collection of things makes it interesting to wonder what kind of English-speaking creatures these expensive, ultra-stylized messages were meant to reach.
The British, obviously. Although they are seemingly the least exotic Europeans, they still have a noticeably different taste in adverts.
The ads are organized thus — bronze, silver, gold — and play so as to save the best for last. This makes it mildly fun to see if you agree with those you have the privilege of judging advertisements. I didn’t agree, in some cases. I found one PSA on domestic assault to be pretty awesome (in an informative, frightening and visually effective way — one shot: you see a wall and hear the faint sounds of a man hitting a woman whispering through it). However, this gem wasn’t to be found in the gold section, although, to be fair, there was some genuinely interesting stuff to be found there.
Some of the most interesting ads were those that did more than just sell a product. These ads, like one about a serious British murder law, are ultra-interactive (social media, guerilla advertising) and super-effective at getting their messages across. Some ads even give aspiring directors the tools to start making their own films. Others give a platform for random, viewer-made content. Such things are refreshing to see played and praised across the pond.
Humor, as always, is nice to see in ads. For the most part, in the Arrows it isn’t too British, so don’t worry about being put off by something silly and slapstick. However, British-ness does alight in other places, such as in McDonald’s ads. The most impressive ones feature poems spoken by an older Englishman whose crushed-snow voice somehow makes Micky-D’s into a staple of British life — a city wayside offering tea, beer and a place talk about football with your mates. It’s kind of freaky.
My brain’s immediate reaction to that ad was: “Hey, that’s the restaurant we love to hate. Also, were’ the Da-Da-Dah-Da-Dahhh?”
A moment later, however, my brain found itself baffled by the mere fact that someone got the idea to make a poem out of a McDonald’s ad.
If it hasn’t become apparent by now: There are at least a few reasons to watch British commercials. Also, it should be said that advertisements (no matter how good) are considerably more enjoyable when they don’t interrupt your YouTube or TV browsing.
The Walker is showing these award-winners for the entire month. Tickets are $10 for non-members, $8 for members. Screenings are already selling out so be sure to get your tickets quick. And if it seems weird to pay to watch ads, that’s because it is. Like I said at the beginning, it’s nicer for you if you approach the collection as entirely fictional.
Also, to complement the screenings the museum is changing up its menus to offer English ciders and beers as well as cocktails and snacks.
Luckily, some good things in life are free: You can see the ads that finished as finalists gratis (as all ads should be) in the Walker’s Lecture Room.