Opinion: Do ads appear so terrible because we're all too sober?

Luke Haines

Luke Haines

14 September 2015

It's probably not going too far out on a limb to say that bar staff are frequently the sort of people who enjoy a drink.

In fact, some of the finest drinkers you'll ever meet either currently work in the licensed trade, or did at some point in their past. As an acid test, you can tell the quality of a drinker by the unusual situations they have woken up in.

For example, and in the interests of full disclosure, I once woke up in a skip.

Sometimes it's not the location of a hungover awakening that proves the calibre of the drinker so much as the contents of their pockets after a night out. Reconstructing an evening, CSI style, from the receipts you wake up with can be exciting, depressing, baffling, amusing, and often all of the above. It may also reveal you to be the proud owner of a boxed set of seven hundred Country & Western classics.

Let me explain.

For the unaware who go to bed at sensible hours, there is a strata of advertisement that only gets broadcast in the wee wee hours of the morning on high-number cable channels, after any semblance of real programming has finished. Bar workers will know it well, from the 3am homecomings that see us wondering what's on TV before being reminded that the answer is 'nothing, it's 3am'.

Invariably, we find ourselves watching ads that consist of Q-list celebrities waxing nostalgic about their chosen genre of music, film or product. Perhaps 'chosen' is a little strong – they're generally rhapsodising about whichever terrible product has paid them to stand there and launch into an interminable harangue of the viewer, exalting them to part with hard-earned money in exchange for a commemorative DVD set of John Wayne's most racially insensitive movies, or 32 CDs' worth of doo-wop classics. Sometimes they'll also plug cleaning products, or exercise equipment that targets bizarrely specific body parts (Thighmaster) or involves a lot of cartoonish wanking.

If this motion built muscle, every 14 year old boy would look like the Hulk
If this motion built muscle, every 14 year old boy would look like the Hulk

It should come as no surprise that products sold at 3am on shutdown cable channels are universally awful – the slightly-updated version of products that used to be sold in the back of newspapers. However, bar staff coming home are the only ones awake enough to spot this fact. The typical viewer is six pints and a couple of tequilas into their night, and an extensive Wurzels retrospective or home Brazilian waxing kit might begin to sound like a good investment. You can sell a lot of stupid shit to drunks.

What's interesting about this is that the golden age of advertising, as eulogised by TV's Mad Men was also the golden age of drinking.

This is probably not a coincidence. A lot of great advertising ideas, from Lucky Strike's 'It's toasted' slogan (itself referenced by the aforementioned Mad Men) to the franchisation of McDonald's come from an era where doctors often recommended that their patients drink at lunchtime.

That's no hyperbole – a 1958 study by Lankenau Hospital and the Heart Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania led the Des Moines Register to report that 'a couple of cocktails before dinner, and maybe a third for good measure' might actually be good for you. This is the era that also promised that 'Guinness is good for you' and that Miller was part of 'the high life'.

Maybe the reason that almost all advertising seems so asinine these days – so brainlessly, nakedly shallow – is that society is finally sober enough to notice.

Advertising was an art form perfected to peddle things to people who had hard liquor for brunch, and has never really adapted to our dreary, sober world.

Either that, or people who work in advertising are still drinking at the suicidal pace established in the mid-20th century, and as such don't realise that their attempts to offload products seem ham-fisted to a populace that treats mouthwash as an oral cleanser instead of an aperitif.

Overall, a more sober public is probably a good idea, as it means only the gullible or intoxicated will be suckered into buying terrible products. Bar workers are, of course, immune, as we would never come home from a shift drunk and end up doing something regrettable.

On a related note, does anyone want my boxed set of Now That's What I Call Yodelling?

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