Word Up

As my chauffeur had the day off and the Aston Martin was having its gold wheel trims studded with fresh water pearls, I ended up waiting for a tube train on Wednesday at Vauxhall underground station when I started reading the posters on the wall across the tracks.

How on earth they get these big adverts up there is a mystery to me but

secretly I’d love to believe there’s a wee man who runs across with his paste bucket between departures, desperately running to get the advert up before the next train squashes him.

Anyway, however it’s done it must be rushed. All the sheets are badly put together with overlaps that cause unintentional hilarity and I had a good laugh at the new giant advert for the local Virgin Active gym. The poster man had hastily overlapped the sheets, obscuring some letters. This didn’t matter till the final line which now reads “I love to swim at a gym with a big poo”. I’m almost sure the letter “L” has gone missing beneath the next sheet, but perhaps it’s some new swimming game launched by the environmental lobby.

Posters tell their own story and at Oxford Street station, on the escalators, you instantly get a snapshot of the recession. Apart from the empty poster boxes as you rise towards street level, there are still any number of adverts for Christmas sales and west end shows that closed a year ago. Perhaps I just imagined the advert announcing the sale of commemorative dinner plates for the upcoming royal wedding - of Victoria and Albert.

Advertising must be a rubbish business to be in. You spend all day thinking up a slogan like “go to work on an egg” and it’s used for decades but you don’t get a single penny extra, while whoever writes Cheryl Cole’s songs gets royalties for years, which presumably helps lessen their embarrassment.

We all know the great advertising slogans like “A Mars A Day Helps You Work Rest And Play” or “It Does What It Says On The Tin” but I think the duff ones are more interesting. Nothing brings a dose of humility to an ad agency more than the smell of failure. For instance, a hotel in Plymouth that specialised in weekend breaks for pensioners wondered why their new agency’s slogan failed to bring in the punters five year ago. It concentrated on the relaxing sleep waiting for the oldies in their luxury beds but said “Stay with us for the rest of your life”.

Warsaw tourist bosses allowed a slogan in the Seventies which went “Poland, you’re welcome to it” and during the SARS epidemic, which claimed the lives of many in the Far East, I saw in Hong Kong a tourism slogan that described the city as the place that “Takes Your Breath Away”.

Clairol introduced a curling tong called The Mist Stick to Germany and literally translated the product name without realising the German for Mist is also a slang word for Manure. Funnily enough the “manure stick” bombed. Then the Coors beer slogan “Turn It Loose” appeared on posters in Latin America translated in to Spanish as “Suffer From Diahorrea”.

Perhaps then advertising isn’t a boring drudge of a career after all, so long as you have a sense of humour and can laugh at your mistakes. And when you get bored there’s always that great game to play using someone else’s successful slogan but putting it with some other product. For instance “If You Like A Lot Of Chocolate On Your Biscuit Join Our Club” worked well for Jacobs Biscuits but would work even better for Weight Watchers don’t you think?

How about ”Every Little Helps” for an enhancing bust cream, or maybe that liquid coffee slogan, “Camp, It’s Best”, being used by west end theatres. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of the curry eating, beer drinking blokes you know should get to use “High Speed Gas”, or where you’d reuse Burger King’s “It Takes Two Hands To Hold A Whopper”.

But be careful. The Nike slogan “Just Do It” might be great for sport, but it wouldn’t be so good for The Samaritans, would it?

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