Reporting Jonathon Sharp
It’s that time of year. Snowflakes fall, sidewalk salt crystals scar your shoes, and the best British ads of the year play at the Walker Art Center.
The British Arrows Awards — a screening tradition for the museum now in its twenty-fourth year — are a kaleidoscope of advertising ideas, showcasing the best things on TV (or online) that people across the pond have to sit through.
The awards, which run a breezy 72 minutes, are like watching the Super Bowl without any American football. It’s pretty fun.
Two reasons: (1) Seeing the familiar done differently, with products that could be cut for whole cloth fiction, is neat; (2) disagreement is delightful: your favorite ad will most likely be something different from the one judged best by the Anglo advertising elite, your date, or the person sitting in front of you.
But before I tell you my favorite ad, know that tickets for the screenings sell out fast. (The first two screenings are already sold out.) For tickets and screening dates, which run throughout December, click here.
My favorite? This year, a Doritos ad took the title, despite the fact it wasn’t in the gold section and failed to win the Best of the Year award. Nevertheless, I’ll offer a taste of its epic-comic brilliance.
Mexico, 1968. A bowl of tortilla chips.
A young boy. The look of determination in his eyes.
Opposite him, a man wearing a straw hat on a donkey.
The boy takes a chip, flicks it at the man with bullet-like speed.
The man’s hat pops off. A ribbon of smoke hangs in the air.
The man is startled for a moment, before he smiles, throws out a thumbs up and says:
“Good shot, Esteban!”
The ad goes on to show Esteban’s life as a champion tortilla chip thrower and his fall from grace. Titled “Dip Desperado,” the ad is goofy and awesome in a Napoleon Dynamite sort of way, and it’s something one wouldn’t mind watching again and again and again.
Anyway, if Esteban didn’t sound like your jam, don’t worry. That sort of goofiness seemed to be the exception – although there were mini bulldogs rapping out of jewelry boxes and the royal family (or what appeared to be the royal family) doing its rendition of a YouTube-style, down-the-aisle wedding dance.
Many of the ads, including the year’s winner, try to tug at both the purse and heartstrings, bringing out the cuteness in consumerism. Other ads reimagine the world, putting propellers on lawnmowers, offering angels as girlfriends and giving cats opposable thumbs to push products.
Some ads are also quite serious. One seeking to help hungry children in Africa started a TV talent show that spliced a Britain’s-Got-Talent-like program with hard-hitting documentaries on starving children, using social media to raise money. Other campaigns also harnessed social media, but for less noble means (#walkofshame).
The more artful the ad, the more serious it seemed to be. Perhaps the coolest creative concept was one used in an ad against knife crime, which is a problem in the UK considering firearms are harder to come by. The ad is done in time-lapse 2D graffiti and shows a teenage boy doing quotidian things before getting in a tussle and fatally knifing another boy. All the action happens on the wall save for the blood, which spills out, red and lifelike, on the sidewalk. Strong stuff.
Variety and brevity. Those words best describe the experience of watching the Arrows, which are arranged so as to save the best for last. The program goes from finalists to the bronze winners, silver winners, gold winners and finally to the coveted Best Ad. With so many different takes on cereal, beer, clothing, tortilla chips and public service announcements, it’s hard to watch the Arrows without finding something to laugh at, tip your hate to or flick Doritos at.