Telescopic mess-tin set. Wind-up torch. A4-sized sachet of baked beans. I own all these things, and I’ve watched every episode of Ray Mears’ programmes – including the boring ones. Despite forgetting my sleeping bag, I once survived the unforgiving June conditions of a camping trip near Swindon by lying in my tent covered with the pages of Waitrose Weekender magazine. Every time I shifted, they slid off. It looked (and felt) like I was doing a budget Ayahuasca ceremony.
So, desert island survival won’t be an issue for me. I expect to thrive. And I expect to drink a lot of tropical Lilt. In fact, apart from those piranhas that apparently swim up your wee, I fear only one thing – loneliness. That’s why I’d choose a cast of familiar friends among my desert Island ads to keep me company – recurring campaign characters. Having come up with one for Ginsters recently – Merryn, a Cornish farmer who goes to strange lengths to grow top veg, I’ve done some thinking about the characters which inspire us to watch, rather than the ones which inspire us to emigrate.
Ginsters – Merryn
Never say no to Panda – The Panda
Let’s start with a brand antihero. A character who never delivers a manifesto, never acts out the problem that the product solves, and never even speaks.
It just appears silently in people’s lives, and causes a moment of insanity. Which incidentally, is probably what the idea was conceived in.
I’ve always loved how the gag stays rewarding despite the structure staying the same.
The team only needs to push the panda’s behaviour by a smidge each time for each new spot to feel fresh.
Old Spice – Terry Crews
If I was writing ads to this campaign, a character like this would set me free rather than trap me in a portaloo. Terry’s character isn’t so well-developed that it drives the story of whatever new message comes along, instead he drives the tone. He is the tone.
And because that tone is disorder, Terry allows you to push the executions to be more and more surprising to a viewer, while knowing his character can absorb it. If you need someone to use their own head as a bowling ball in service of the product, Terry’s your man.
Levi’s Sta-Prest – Flat Eric
It’s just impressive that in the 90s, anything took my attention away from Green Day’s latest album, Jet off Gladiators (real name Diane Youdale), and Grand Theft Auto before it got good. The head-bob of this little yellow fella monopolised my lethargic teenage gaze for thirty unprecedented seconds.
I once heard John Hegarty say that the leap to Flat Eric came from a brief about friendship. What that’s got to do with cotton shirts, your nan’s guess is as good (if not better) than mine. It’s not like they’re both trying to squeeze into the same shirt, but as all good account people say, “maybe that’s the year two TV ad.”
Rather than being a mouthpiece for the brand, the Martians are an idea. The creative strategy is built into their very existence – one which flips the prejudices of us Earth-dwelling Luddites against Smash, because we don’t know a convenient spud when we see one.
It’s all very clever, really.
Yellow Pages – James Nesbitt
I remember how deftly set-up and paid-off these tightly-plotted spots were. But looking at them now – how incredibly refreshing to have a flawed brand character which drives the comic traps he lands in. He’s not slick, infallible or cool. He doesn’t emit ‘the attitude of the brand.’
He just sets up the problems for Yellow Pages to solve, and does so with fairly alarming charm. Hopefully he could ring up Captain Birdseye and get us rescued off the island.
Duncan Brooks is a creative at TBWA\London.