Monday, October 22, 2007

A nod is as good as a wink

During the Rugby World Cup Malcolm caught it for the second time, and found himself saying to his (ironically) self-proclaimed Rugby Groupie daughter, "Watch this. It's a terrific ad."

It was the brilliant pastiche of the British Airways' 1989 "Face" ad, now downsized and humanised for Silverjet.

Patrick Collister, today on First Post, does a critique of just that ad, saying, quite rightly, that it's A Slap in the Face for British Airways. Malcolm quavers in admitting he should also have acknowledged the BBC website's Magazine with Giles Wilson doing an even better job on the ad, back on 5th October.

Collister gives the low-down on the ad: to Malcolm's surprise it is the work of the same ad-man (Graham Fink) and the same director (Hugh Hudson) as the original. Different cast, different budget though.

Thomas J. Barrett married Mary, the eldest daughter of Francis Pears (at which point Malcolm wonders how many have guessed where the anecdote is going). Barrett was arguably the earliest great advertising genius. He was so radical that Francis Pears took all his money out of the firm, and left it in Barrett's hands.

Barrett imported 25,000 French francs worth of 10 centime coins, had them stamped with the name "Pears", and put them into circulation as substitutes for the English penny. He solicited Lily Langtry and the Presidents of the various learned Societies to endorse Pears soap -- for no fee. He tried to get his advertisement printed on the back of the UK census form, but the Government turned down his offer of £100,000.

His greatest coup was to pay £2,200 to the owner of the Illustrated London News for the painting "A Child's World". That painting was by Millais, and was a portrait of his own grandson (who went into the Navy, worked in intelligence in the famous Room 40, decoded the telegrams that led to the Battle of Jutland, and became an Admiral, Sir William James -- but that's another story).

Barrett then persuaded Millais to allow the painting to be "adapted" by the addition of a bar of Pears' soap, and "Bubbles" was created. It is still number 14 of the 1168 "Icons of Britain".

The "Bubbles" campaign cost Barrett £30,000, and put millions of reproductions onto walls of ordinary British homes.

Vladimir Trechikoff, Martin Elliot (of Tennis Girl fame) and Jack Vettriano all (less deservedly) profited from where Barrett led. He went on to devise the annual "Miss Pears" competition and the Pears' Annual (which used remarkably high-quality reproduction techniques).

Malcolm's point here is that Barrett saw advertising as the poor man's art-gallery (and served the poor man very well thereby). Today, the best television advertising fulfils something of the same rôle. The very best ads (like BA's early stuff done by Saatchi, Guinness, Honda and the like) achieve artistic levels which deserve to be recognised.

We should not be too haughty to celebrate them. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember being told about this, googled it and found it in a rather strange website....
"I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" was adopted by West Ham in the mid 1920's. It originated in the strong tradition of schoolboy soccer in the area. An outstanding young player called W.(Billy) J. Murray bore an uncanny resemblance to the curly haired boy in Sir John Everett Millais' painting 'Bubbles' (made famous as an advert for Pears Soap) and so earned the nickname 'Bubbles'. Billy's headmaster at Park School, Cornelius (Corny) Beale was a great supporter of football and used to adapt the words of popular songs to celebrate the exploits of his lads. (Possibly the origin of 'chants' based on players' names today?) Anyway, when the young 'Bubbles' Murray made it to the West Ham first team (as right half, I believe) fans would sing 'Bubbles' in his honour and so, around 1923 the tradition was born.


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