Yeah, so while everyone’s been busy banging on about the slew of Christmas adverts which will now dog our commercial breaks from here until 2012, it seems there’s one recent advertising campaign which has gotten off comparatively lightly while everyone’s attention has been focused on the John Lewis tyke, the Argos aliens, or the Littlewoods brats. In this day and age of Sky Plus, BBC iPlayer and 4oD (as if anyone has any need for ITV Player or Demand 5), the vast majority of these can happily be avoided, but given the budget of some campaigns, they are “too big to fail”, and billboards and cinema trips will serve as an unwelcome reminder that, yes, it happened. Of course, I am referring to Müller’s horribly misguided ‘Wünderful Stuff’ advert.
Müller have past form in producing minor atrocities in advertising. Witness the stupefying success of their string of shorts depicting the general public dancing to Nina Simone – except their heads are actually superimposed onto professional bodypoppers, leading to a stomach-churning case of broken neck syndrome, ill-fitting fixed grins rolling around like a ragdoll. Yet, it was a hit, and so led to similar freaky noggin disjointedness care of Volkswagen’s Singin’ in the Rain update, which would have only been more upsetting if they had stuck Gene Kelly’s actual decomposing head on top of a pike and waggled it about, or the omnipresent Evian babies, an endless torrent of nauseating cutesy-pooness and desecration of hip-hop history.
Thankfully, opinions of their new campaign (launched in October at a cost of £20 million) are more mixed than the above examples, even if, on the surface, it’s less offensive. But whereas those were just a concept or idea horrifically implemented, Wünderful Stuff’s ineptitude exists on a number of levels.
Welcome to Trans-Atlantic-Europa-Town
Okay, so this is part of an increasing trend by advertisers to adopt an international approach to make it easier to transfer to other territories (hence Mazda’s incessantly generic Stomp!/United Colors of Benetton/Noisettes/baggy khaki trousers-filled works of blandness). But too many ads nowadays are designed for a UK audience yet set in an anonymous fictional town, city or suburb more like the streets of LA (funny that). In the case of Wünderful Stuff, it’s skyscraper central, a city the likes of which just doesn’t exist in this country. The grey besuited masses suggest it’s a version of London, but excepting a token red pillar box and UK numberplates, there’s little evidence we’re in Blighty at all. Maybe a US metropolis adds an epic international flavour, but it’s more confusing than anything.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie…And Bears…And Talking Cars
The most obvious thing Müller gets so wide off the mark is in its pointless and perplexing mining of nostalgia. We live in a society so wrapped up in rose-tinted views of the past, with such an unwillingness to put away childish things, that since BBC’s “I Love [Insert Year]” series of talking heads shows, companies have exploited the weak of mind to buy any old tat, so long as it’s got a Thundercats/Danger Mouse/Ghostbusters/etc. logo slapped on it. The Wünderful Stuff advert attempts to mainline this instant warm and fuzzy feeling reflecting on Saturday mornings in front of the telly, but muddles the issue by cramming all these disparate properties together. What’s KITT the Knight Rider car doing in the same fictional space as the Mr Men? Was there a “buy one intellectual property, get two free” deal going on? There was an undeniable thrill when Disney creations met Looney Tunes in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but here it’s just plain lazy. Maybe it would have worked just sticking to Hanna-Barbera characters, but why just the two of them? Especially when one of them is Yogi Bear, last seen in a critically-lambasted feature film.
And why even look to the past? It’s not the first time cartoon characters have sold yoghurt, but whereas the Munch Bunch were aimed at children or at least parents buying food for their children, here you have kids TV relics clogging up the screen, in a seemingly desperate attempt to corner the 25-40 year old Superman-underpants-wearing WKD-drinking Peter Kay-stand-up-DVD-buying market. Okay, you could argue Yogi Bear and Muttley and the Mr Men are enjoyed by generation after generation, but how many 8 year olds in 2011AD watch Knight Rider?
The issue is compounded by the introduction of, please correct me if I’m wrong, completely new characters. The initial response is “I know KITT, I know Yogi Bear, should I know that little black-and-white ant? Or those weird little sprite things?”. There’s something like a Transformer, there’s something like Robot Unicorns, but when you’re trying to click the audience’s recognition switch elsewhere, throwing brand new curveballs into the mix makes what is already a mess even messier.
The Intrinsic Horror of Metamorphosis
Maybe this is where it gets personal, but is it just me, or is there something TRULY HORRIFYING about transforming into…something else. Kafka understood it, Cronenberg gets it, Disney pretty much trumps them both in the body horror stakes. Just watch the terrifying sequence in Pinocchio when the naughty boys of Pleasure Island are turned into donkeys. Now, go ahead and tell me that you do not get genuine cold shivers when Lampwick screams “MMAAAMMAAA!”.
In the case of Wünderful Stuff, we have a guy grabbed and digested by a spherical grinning robot and spat out in the form of a famous cartoon bear. Clearly his mind has been robbed of all memory and personality as rather than greeting his new found state with shrieks and wailing, he grins and dances around without a care in the world. Later, when the fruit is launched into the sky, the businessmen flee in terror, but as they collide and are ‘turned’, they similarly abandon normality in favour of giggling and confetti like delirious toddlers. Unlike the B-movie horror parody adverts for Rice Krispie Squares and (an inexplicably banned one for) Marmite, which this closely resembles, the tone here is celebratory, the music triumphant, making it all the more disturbing. But questions remain: Will they change back? What about their families? Is this the fate for all mankind now no human soul remains in this city? Where will they strike next? Is this the end of days?
That’s Just SO…Random!
Underlying all these epic miscalculations is the committee-approved cynicism of it all, a deliberate calculated attempt to make it a ‘viral sensation’. Of course, it’s an advertising company’s role to get their work seen by as many people as possible, but, shy of whacking a bunch of tits in the middle of it, Wünderful Stuff’s desperate cries for attention are embarrassing. It seems hell bent on becoming the ultimate advert. Think of all the components it shamelessly tries to incorporate. The central conceit – of inserting fun into a drab existence – has not only already been utilised by Müller before, but features in practically every single advert break. Think of how many times a grey rainy day has suddenly been revitalised by the colourful refreshing joy of [INSERT PRODUCT HERE]! Add the aforementioned shoe-horned TV characters and wave of terror motif, then top it off with some shakycam for an element of T-Mobile-esque flashmob-bandwagon-jumping faux-spontaneity stuntvertising, and there you have it.
Put it all together, and it seems jumbled, but by juxtaposing these incongruous constituent parts, the advertisers reveal their secret weapon: the random factor. Think about how Cadbury’s drum-playing gorilla became an internet hit. What did it have to do with chocolate? Nothing! But it’s a gorilla! Playing the DRUMS! And what does anything in the Müller advert have to do with yoghurt? I mean, there are some spoons…there’s some fruit, even if it looks nothing like the syrupy jam you get in a Fruit Corner…and a pot of yoghurt turns into a pair of giant Master Hands at the end. But that’s precisely it. It’s, like, SOOOOOO RAN…DUHHHM I’M GONNA SHARE IT WIV MA M8S ON FACEBOOK!! LOL!!!
So, my biggest problem with Wünderful Stuff?
That, sadly, there’s a chance that it actually works…