How to pay a lot of money to say nothing

I very rarely watch TV.

It’s hardly ever as good as a DVD movie, and if it is I can either watch it on iPlayer/4OD etc. or wait for the box set.

This also means I don’t watch many TV ads in their natural habitat.

Yesterday I started watching the thing about Fred West on ITV. I managed about half an hour before switching a movie on instead, but during that half hour I sat through a few ad breaks and it really struck me how bloody awful the writing was.

It’s not so much the homogeneity or the lack of real persuasion that got me; it was more the meaninglessness of what it was trying to tell me.

For example, a car ad said something like, ‘Who would have thought something so spacious could be such a great drive?’. Now, what does that mean? Is it really that spacious? Is the drive really great? Compared to what? In reality the ad says nothing more than ‘We want you to think this car is spacious and is good to drive.’ Well, thanks for that. No chance of telling us that it’s the most spacious car in its class, I suppose?

Earlier in the day I had been at Marks and Spencer. On the wall was a perfect example of meaningless vs meaningful writing. The first sentence said, ‘Animal Welfare? There’s nothing woolly about our commitment to it.’ Underneath that it said, ‘Environment? We show our commitment by supporting sustainable fishing.’

Sentence one is a great instance of a tortuous, meaningless and unnecessary pun creating a strangely ironic sentence. Did they really use the word ‘woolly’ because sheep produce wool and sheep are animals? Wow. Puntastic. Unfortunately they have been entirely woolly with their assertion. What is woolly about M&S’s commitment to animal welfare is that they specify nothing about it. They just make a vague (woolly) claim of such behaviour, and all for that stunning bit of wordplay.

Sentence two, on the other hand, eschews the pun for the straightforward piece of information. It isn’t very detailed, but at least I know that in some way they support sustainable fishing. I could now find out more about this and see how well it chimes with my own commitment to such practices. Great. And I don’t even feel shortchanged by the lack of ‘Carping on’, ‘We know our plaice’ or ‘Fintastic’.

I suppose we’re now so used to these attempts to make companies sound like they are saying a lot while they say absolutely nothing that we just let them wash over us.

Do they result in more affection or sales?

It’d be a depressing world if they did.