1982. Things aren't great in Britain.
The Falklands war is in full swing. Unemployment has exceeded 3,000,000 for the first time since the 1930s. 1200 of those jobs are lost from the Round Oak Steelworks in the West Midlands and this is just the start of things to come for Britain's steel and coal industries as Thatcher pursues her dreams of a free market economy. Those who have jobs are starting to count themselves lucky.
On a building site, somewhere in London, eight labourers pile into a small van after a hard day's graft. They work long days but the ever-present alternative is far less attractive. The belts have been tightened at home. These are meat-and-potatoes men, yet even that fundamental has had to be challenged. Gone is the thick juicy steak at the end of the day. Replaced by a grilled lump of ground meat, mockingly pressed into the visual approximation of a steak and sold frozen. Even the potatoes are in jeopardy these days. Fatigued by a demanding build and accepting of the casualty in the meat stakes, the men sit contemplating the only variable in their lives - what their meat product might be served with.
Will it be chips or jacket spuds? Will it be salad or frozen peas? Will it be mushrooms? Fried onion rings? You'll have to wait and seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Not a typing error, that last paragraph was in fact the song sung by the fore-mentioned labourers in the inexplicably wonderful 1982 TV advert for Birds Eye Steakhouse 'Beef Grills'. You can find it on youtube. It ends with the rousing chorus 'Hope it's chips, it's chips. We ho-ope it's chips, it's chips'. It was my favourite advert as a child and, I suppose, remains so to this day as I really fucking hate adverts now.
I've always been fascinated by advertising and marketing. I have a pop-culture love for creative branding and commercial design has the ability to really excite me. The most fun parts of the films I've released and commercial ventures I've embarked on have always been the back-and-forward with designers in trying to give the product a marketable aesthetic (I once released an indie comedy film called Jerkbeast on DVD. Working with amazing Baltimore-based designer Nolen Strals of Post Typography, we nailed the branding so well, we managed to sell t-shirts to people who had seen and actually hated the film. I counted that as one of the few successes of that financial Titanic)
The history of advertising is littered with fun and bonhomie. Because, until fairly recently, advertising was fun. Companies had a product to sell, they told us about it whilst sugaring the pill with a little joke or a song. The Ferrero Rocher Ambassador's Reception, that 'Auntie Beryl' cinema ad for Bacardi which compared an exotic paradise to Peckham. The Hamlet cigar adverts which used Bach's Air On A G String to convey the carcinogenic glimmer of joy in the otherwise wretched lives of the eternally melancholy. They were straight up. They said 'here's our product. Here's why it's good and here's a little joke or a song to make you like us'
And we did. If the Do It All chain of DIY shops still existed, they would have my eternal DIY based custom purely in recognition of my love for the song they used in their early-80's TV adverts. I don't fucking care, it's a DIY shop, you can win me with humour. I still have a fondness for Weetabix based entirely on their animated skinhead characters from my childhood. When I fancy popcorn, Butterkist has my eternal allegiance (BUTTERKIST! BUTTERKIST! RA-RA-RA!) and on the odd occasion I buy butter, it'll always be Country Life because some animated yellow splodges who sounded like The Wurzels sang 'You'll never put a better bit of butter on your knife!' at me. I like branding. I like a product having a projected ethos and attitude. I like to have an idea of where the manufacturers are coming from. There's nothing sadder than a supermarket 'no frills' own-brand product sat on a shelf, white label, simply stating what's inside. Have you seen those bottles of gin that are just called 'GIN'. Ugh. Strip alcohol of it's aspirational sophistication and you might as well call it all 'liquid misery'.
Perhaps the best example of the 'here's our product, here's why it's good and here's a little song to make you like us' approach advert was the Big Mac one from McDonalds in the 80s. You remember the song - 'Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun' just repeated ad-infinitum whilst the camera glided over a burger so fresh and juicy looking, Linda McCartney would have dry-humped it.
The genius of that particular song was that (possibly unlike the product itself) there was no bullshit in it. The tune was catchy and the lyrics just listed the ingredients in such a way that the more you sang the song, the more you wanted to just eat one of those delicious bastards. It kept not just the name of the product at the forefront of your mind, but the very taste of it. And I guess that's OK. It's maybe a little cheeky. It's certainly well-thought out, aggressive marketing. It's no longer saying 'If you're planning on eating a burger - eat one of ours!' it's saying 'Oi, you, you want a burger. You do. YOU DO. You want a burger now. With fucking pickles and special sauce and shit. You know burgers, you love burgers, don't call it a burger, it's a Big Mac. Stop calling them burgers' Mmmmm special sauce. You want one now. You want one. Have one. Have a fucking burger-I-mean-Big-Mac. Have one now. Have one for every meal.'
And now, an experiment. Next time you're sat with someone truly enjoying something - be it some food, a video game, a sexual favour, whatever, when you see someone really enjoying something, ask them 'Are you enjoying that?' and note down their response. I think you'll find it interesting. I've been doing this for a while. Do you want to know what the predominant answer is?
"Are you enjoying that?"
"I'm loving it!"
Hmmm. Seriously. Maybe it's just me, but, I'm pretty sure that up until fairly recently we were saying 'I love it'.
When their 'I'm Lovin' it' ads first started, they seemed a bit fishy to me. The focus of their advertising seemed to have shifted away from the food itself. Maybe they knew that people weren't buying it anymore. I mean, of course they were still buying it, America's basic dietary regime seems inextricably based on their Dollar Menu now, but surely at this point everyone basically suspects that if they're eating McDonalds, they're not eating well? That doesn't mean they don't crave it. Modern life is a never-ending struggle of avoiding aggresively-marketed corporate processed crap which tastes great but does us long-term harm. So it seemed that rather than even pretending the food was this lush bounty, the marketing was now geared towards what appeared to be a lifestyle agenda. Their ads became hip young folk living hip young lives which were in some way enhanced by mashed hips in baps.
These new ads ended with a curious Close-Encounters style sequence of five notes then the sung refrain 'I'm Lovin' it' - you know it - duh-duh-duh-DUH DUH I'm lo-vin' it'. One day, I saw an ad which didn't have the refrain. Just the five notes. Duh-duh-duh-DUH DUH. And to my horror, I responded 'I'm Lovin' It'. Those fuckers were in my head! And I'm vegetarian. And I haven't been inside a fucking MaccyDee's for over fifteen years.
I'm sure this is a recognised advertising tool. I'm sure it has a name and a slew of companies specialising in its implementation. But I hate it. It feels like a boundary has been crossed and now basic conversations I have with friends come complete with a side order of insidious advertising. Because, I assume that's how it works for McDonalds advocates. They hear the words 'I'm loving it' and something subconcious sings 'Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese...'
And it's too late to stem that one now. It's everywhere. Even people who abhor McDonald's have accepted this miniscule progression in our use of language and work as unaware advertisers for the company they so loathe. It's so clever and so very vile.
So next time somebody asks you if you like something, don't give in. You tell them you love it. Not that you're 'loving it' and next time someone tells you they're loving something, maybe ask them if McDonalds are paying them to do that. Let's not let shitty fucking corporations influence the way we communicate. OK? Simples.
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