UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

You Won’t See That in America

You Wont See That in America

The 19th annual British Television Advertising Awards (BTAA) premiered Sunday, October 22 n d at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Those crazy buggers over on the other side of the pond will show just about anything on the tube, and they do more with 6 channels than we do with 400.

The 2006 Awards feature chillingly graphic road safety spots, a computer-generated Gene Kelly performing a hip-hop freestyle version of Singin’ in the Rain, a city populated entirely by stunt-people (wearing strong anti-perspirant, of course), opposing AOL ads which use Big Brother imagery from George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, and a grim parody of the American/British occupation of Iraq, a la Cirque-du-Soleil. To see the full list of winning spots, log onto www.btaa.co.uk.

Many of this year’s commercials lack the dry British humor that has helped make the BTAA a perennial favorite at the MFA. While several of the commercials go for humor, this year the focus seems to be on cinematic style with sweeping camera angles, high-minded concepts, outlandishly staged scenarios, and two minutes or more in length. Comparing these ads to American TV spots makes us look like a nation of ADD cases and shallow product-junkies.

The award for Best Commercial went to Wieden?? for a Honda Ad “The Impossible Dream” in which a man dressed like Evil Knievel starts on a mini-scooter which morphs into a four wheel ATV, then a convertible, then a racing motorcycle, then a stock car, finally to a powerboat which speeds over a waterfall and emerges as a Honda branded hot-air balloon while the old standard for which it’s named plays in the background.

The Gold Awards include a spot for Sony Bravia television sets in which millions of multi-colored rubber superballs roll down a hill, bouncing off everything in high-definition, the aforementioned Stunt City ad for Sure for Men, and a Public Service Announcement that most Americans would likely not have the stomach to watch, in which a teenager captures her friend getting run over by a car while wandering into the street on her cameraphone.

Other PSAs were just as brutally effective: in one a little girl lies against a tree with blood dripping from her ears before the tape reverse and she comes back to life to say “Hit me at 30kph and I have an 80% of living.” The ad continues, “There’s a reason it’s 30.” Another follows a series of smokers with little gray spots burrowing under their skin and moving toward their brain or heart; it’s a message about the increased risk of blood clots smokers face.

The crowd favorite was a hilarious anti-smoking PSA in which the end of a lit cigarette is sandwiched between two upside-down fingers like a penis, burning steadily. As the announcer notes that the arterial build-up from smoke particles can lead to erectile dysfunction, the cigarette burns out and the ash falls on the ground. (This is the first anti-smoking ad I’ve seen which actually makes me want to stop smoking.)

Another spot which has won other European industry awards is a Guinness ad which starts from two men in London drinking Guinness and rolls background through the stages of human evolution all the way to worm-like beasties crawling out of the sea. (Can you imagine the reaction of Christian Creationists?)

Composed of a cross-section of advertising agencies, production, and supporting companies, BTAA was created in 1976 simply to recognize and reward the best television and cinema commercials, not to turn a profit. The emphasis on artfulness over profit in these commercials is what makes this event so perfect, and is yet another reason why you just won’t see this kind of thing on American television.