The British Advertising Awards are always good for a good laugh. They are a tradition in the Twin Cities. They are shown at the WalkerArtCenter during Christmas holiday season. If you love British humor, then you are in for a fine time..


This year was markedly different.

Commercials with animals are always funny (who can resist flying penguins or lip-synching dogs who ride shotgun in cars, or snails with led lights in their antennae to guide the way). However, most of the ads were somber — and long.

For some reason, ads in the US are about 30 seconds long. In Britain, they seem last as long as a documentary. But in reality, they must be 2-3 minutes apiece.

For most of the ads, you couldn’t tell what they were selling until the very end. That might be a good way to build excitement, it was rally hard to see the connection between the ad and the product. Sort of like watching Annie on Broadway and then seeing banner saying “Delta Airlines.” It didn’t connect in many cases.

There was a cute ad of a guy going through a water park ride that went all around London — inside buildings, around buildings. It was interesting from a dramatic point of view, but who would have known the ad was for a credit card company?

Then there were the majority of ads that seemed to focus on the darker site of Britain.

For example:

A long commercial that sounded like a medical lecture by a doctor to colleagues on how to treat people who have knife wounds. Point of the commercial was to warn that people who carry knives generally injure themselves so they aren’t good for protection. Point made. It took about 5 minutes with lots of graphic pictures of guts and innards and gangrene. They could have done the same job in less time. I guess air time in London costs much less than in New York.

Another sign of the times was an ad that show a white man’s bald head. A hand then started to write on it. The writing was in black marker in scripts from different languages. Couldn’t read a word since I’m not multi-lingual, but a message flashed on the screen as his white face became darkened by the markers. The message said something along the lines that Britain’s white working class is being obscured. I guess they don’t like diversity in Britain. Or this advertising sponsor didn’t. I don’t doubt we’ll see something similar appear in the States, though.

Also shocking were a pair of ads for a clinic to help Britain’s children who are being abused. Very powerful

Same with two award-winning ads that tried to get people to stop drinking, or at least drink responsibly (I’m guessing). Each ad featured a boy or a girl throwing up, tearing their clothes and feeling awful, then walking out the door of their house. The announcer said, “You wouldn’t start out your night this way. Why end it this way?” Pretty powerful. Just not funny.

There were ads that only an art director would love. You can tell British advertising folk, as their American cousins, love to win awards, even if it doesn’t sell the brand very well. One ad showed a bunch of whiz scientists putting Rubik’s cubes in order in seconds, then working as a team to put a giant puzzle together, and then another and then another (I told you these commercials were long). It was fascinating to watch, but I kept wondering who was sponsoring it, or what it was for. I don’t remember, which shows the point of this story. Watch out for art directors who love to create but don’t know how to inform and persuade.

The best ad of the year (their choice, not mine) was for a bread that has been around for generations. The ad shows a young boy in London marching along with soldiers in parade about to go to war, then shows scenes of the London Blitzkrieg, then scenes of destruction with a voice over of Winston Churchill, then modern times. The bread, apparently, has been around during thick and thin. I’m sure this ad pulled at emotional heartstrings in Britain that we Yanks couldn’t quite relate to, but the storyboarding would work in the US with a little tweaking to pull at the heartstrings here.

Nice job.