This marks the second year that the British Television Advertising Awards have been screened at the Wisconsin Film Festival. The collection of top spots has been an annual fixture at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis since 1988, in recent years drawing well over 10,000 attendees to watch the collection of variously hilarious, thought-provoking, and sometimes just downright perplexing set of commercials. The Friday night screening at Monona Terrace drew a full house too, and the crowd was ready for the pitches.
Merely an hour long, this was the perfect aperitif to kick off the four-day, multi-course feast of the festival.
Dozens of commercials were screened, some brief and as part of a multi-spot ad campaign, and others longer and more involved. They included the universal ubiquitous spots for consumer products like beer and cars, a surprising number of others for wireless plans, and a handful of moving PSAs on everything from breast cancer to child abuse to youth theater. Some reveled in their Britishness, namely a series featuring Welsh miners celebrating noodles and another for Marmite, while others were familiar to American eyes, having already screened during the Super Bowl and other broadcasts stateside.
Having become a big fan of the new AMC series Mad Men, which is set in an egregiously anachronistic Madison Avenue ad agency in 1960, it was interesting to think about how the industry has changed in the ensuing half-century, at least as seen through this particular product. The spots are obviously louder -- in pace, volume, color, and willingness to shock -- all competing in a world permeated by advertising to capture the same result: a place in the viewer's memory. Since these represent the best, at least as determined by a collection of nearly two dozen British and American ad pros, these should stick with you, right?
A few have, at least consciously, since Thursday evening. But there's an easy way to watch them again.
Many of the British Television Advertising Awards are available for viewing online, thanks to its organizers. Interestingly, the commercials screening at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival are actually the winners of the 2007 Awards, presented in Bronze, Silver, and Gold categories, all of which can be viewed online, along with Diploma also-rans that cannot.
Here are a few that stand out, though, presented on the computer screen.
The most familiar ad was a Coke spot spoofing the game play in the Grand Theft Auto series, airing at Super Bowl XLI a year ago. More interesting, though, is its local connection; Moses Patrou, who originally hails from Madison and is a founder of the Youngblood Brass Band, is the lead vocalist for the soundtrack.
Also familiar was the British promo for The Simpsons that went viral a couple years back, depicting a live-action version of the opening credits for the show.
One of the longest, and most British (in intention, at least) commercials in the series was a three-minute spot for the Danish beer Carlsberg, featuring a group of well seasoned football players reliving their glory days out on the pitch.
Another beer commercial took its inspiration from the online viral video known as "Daft Hands," which presents a finger dance to the French dance group's track "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." This one, though, named
If Scotland is your thing, then this animated Christmas spot for the iconic soft drink Irn-Bru should cheer you up, with a snowy tour of such Caledonian locations like Edinburgh, Stirling Castle, Loch Ness, and George Square in Glasgow.
Want Wales? One of the series of spots included in the awards is a campaign for Pot Noodle, a ramen snack produced in Crumlin and employing many coal miners who lost their jobs in the strike of 1984-85. The first video runs two minutes, and contains three spots featuring a group of hard-working Welsh miners extracting the salty snack from tunnels deep beneath the verdant green turf of their home.
The second is only one minute, and features a chorus of miners singing and ode to their new fuel.
Also making light of life in Britain was a spot for Sunshop, paying homage to "The Great British Summer."
Or there's Marmite, which wasn't a flavor particularly favored by a baby in one commercial.
The reanimated celebrity contingent is well represented in a BBC Radio 2 spot starring Elvis, along with an impressive collection of other musicians, including Marvin Gaye, Keith Moon, and others.
Anthropomorphizing cars actually seemed to be something of a trend, as seen in a commercial from Toyota.
Honda was back with another spot featuring the robot AWESOME-O, excuse me, Asimo, touring an art and history museum.
One of the most powerful spots was a Breast Cancer Awareness PSA, featuring a stripper dancing to a lounge version of "Born Slippy" by Underworld.
Another PSA shown in the collection is for The Prince's Trust, a youth charity in Britain.
Winning the "Commercial of the Year" title was the TV ad for a new TV, namely the Sony Bravia. The spot presents a symphony of brilliantly-colored paint geysers erupting from the ground, buildings, and just everywhere else one can imagine in a Glasgow apartment complex. This commercial even has a making-of video to explains its visual virtuosity.
Want more? Many, many more are available here for viewing. But if you want to see them on the big screen with a bunch of other folks, the collection will be showing again at the festival, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Sunday at Monona Terrace, one of the final screenings of the weekend.
Hopefully they'll be back at the festival next year; if you're looking for some spoilers, though, the winners of the 2008 awards are ready to sell themselves to you.