Living in a college dorm my freshman year at the University of Minnesota, a few of my neighbors and my roommate were really into British television, especially comedies. I was a fan of Monty Python and the films the comedy troupe were in, but that was about the extent of it. I never got into Benny Hill or The Black Adder (starring Mr. Bean himself, Roman Atkinson, as well as Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie) until about midway through that first year. We watched a lot of classic episodes, laughing and quoting them for the rest of the year. More recently, British comedy found a new star in Ricky Gervais when the U.K. version of The Office premiered in the summer of 2001. The Office was so popular that it started spawning other versions worldwide and it finally landed in the U.S. as a mid-season replacement in March of 2005, giving its lead, Steve Carell, one of the best acting gigs on U.S. television for years.
The British Television Advertising Awards have been bringing British TV ads to different museums and theaters across the U.S. since the early 1980s. Some of the earlier BTAA-winning ads were created by young directors who went on to create names of their own and are still working today—including Ridley Scott (Alien), Tony Scott (Top Gun), Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire), and Alan Parker (Midnight Express).
The Walker Art Center will be bringing back the BTAAs again, but now the program is called the British Arrow Awards, and as always, it will be a highlight of the Walker film programming this year. The program will be running throughout December, and most of the screenings are sold out well in advance. Currently, two shows are already sold out, with one being the first showing this Friday at 7 p.m. (there are still tickets for the 9:30 p.m. screening); the chair of the British Arrow Awards and managing director of London-based Academy Films, Lizie Gower, will be on hand to introduce and discuss the program for both shows on Friday. I was unaware that the Walker Art Center draws the largest attendance for the BTAAs in the U.S., but the program’s popularity is unsurprising. The program is always entertaining, filled with funny, sad, bizarre, and daring commercials from across the pond. It should be noted that very few of these commercials make it onto network television any more; many of these advertisements are found exclusively online—part of the reason for the name change.
As for the actual ads themselves, there are plenty among the 50 featured in the 75-minute program that will make you wonder what company, idea, or product is even being promoted. There were a few commercials I saw, where I had no idea what the ads were for; doesn’t that seem to be the most important factor in advertising? Shouldn’t we be aware of what this certain product/organization is trying to pitch or sell to us In this case, probably not, but a few were down right confusing and I had to look up a few items since I had no idea what they were. There were a couple ads that I was a bit offended by but that got their points across, and there were more than a dozen that made me laugh out loud…as well as a couple that left me scratching my head in disbelief.
Sometimes the best way to sell a product or get your message across is to feature celebrities (U.S. Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, NBA player Brandon Roy, actor/comedian David Koechner, and tennis star Maria Sharapova), recognizable songs (“On the Road Again,” “Sexy Boy,” and Boston classic “More Than a Feeling”), and products that many in the audience will know already be familiar with (McDonald’s, Johnny Walker whiskey, Nike Air, and Audi cars), but in the end, you might be surprised at how each of these factor in these ads.
While I don’t want to give away any of the actual ads featured in the 2011 edition of the BAAs—that’s part of the fun of going to the show—I will share the ad above, which made me laugh the hardest and was probably my favorite among the 50 that are featured in the program.