BAH! Humbug


Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online
by Dick Hobbs
Issue 96 - December 2014

Yes, it's that time of year again. When, if you are a commercial broadcaster, you start coining it in with the Christmas commercials.

Presumably if you are a director or a post house, you are already pitching for next year's blockbusters. They never have the look of something that has been knocked up on the spur of the moment.

Take the one that started this year's festive season of over-hyped marketing: John Lewis and Monty the penguin. In 2013 John Lewis - posh people's Argos - rather let the side down with a sentimental animation and the awful wailing of Lily Allen. For me, they are back on form with something that shouts commercialism at you, but also that it is single-handedly keeping Soho's post houses in business.

Yes, I know that the story of the commercial is glamorised sex trafficking ("I love you so much I'll smuggle a girlfriend into the country for you"), but the work that went into the CG penguin is startling. Top marks to MPC for the digital Adelie. According to lead animator Tim van Hussen, "With Monty we focused strongly on his physical performance." I think if you spend five months in a darkened room animating an animal you get to talk like that.

The other big talking point this year was the Sainsbury film, which it is hard to even call a commercial. Essentially it is a three and a half minute, historically very accurate, drama, with a logo tacked on the end. Inevitably it attracted a lot of criticism, along the lines of you should not use the heroism of the front line soldiers to flog turkeys.

A lot of it was old-fashioned film-making too. Recreating the famous Christmas Day truce of 1914, director Ringan Ledwidge collected together a lot of extras, many from organisations like the Association for Military Remembrance, which added authenticity. There are some obvious CGI shots (The Mill this time) but most of the impact was created in camera, which is always nice. Even if it meant vast acreages of countryside had to be covered in fake snow in midsummer when it was shot.

Once you have seen those two ads, though, the competition inevitably looks rather thin indeed. Debenhams goes for out and out consumerism, with kids running amok in a department store until one finds the cuddly reindeer she is looking for.

(The spot is set to Paul McCartney's Frog Chorus, a song I once performed in the Royal Albert Hall with Canterbury Cathedral Choir singing the tune and the Treorchy Male Voice Choir doing the croaking. I'm sure there was a reason for it, although for the life of me I cannot think what it was.)

Aldi has an endless tracking shot of all those actors who would otherwise never get a job, ending on Jools Holland committing the cardinal sin of putting wine on the piano. Waitrose has some mawkish nonsense about a girl learning how to make gingerbread for the school's charity stall, but instead giving it to the assistant in Waitrose who sold her the decorations.

The fairies in Marks & Spencers' production are as bad an example of creative post as Monty is an exemplar. It's not often you see compositing as unconvincing as this. And for a television commercial, is it really a good idea for the supposedly good fairy to stop people's televisions working at Christmas, especially to stand in the middle of the road while it is snowing.

Boots tries to wring our withers by showing a family gathering around mum who is a nurse who has been on shift on Christmas Day. But the abiding impression is of the shiftless student daughter who forgot to get her a present and had to get whatever was available in the airport shop on her way home.

Cheap jokes apart, is there any real significance in reviewing the Christmas commercials. Well I think there is, because the industry is dependent upon advertising, and will continue to be so, whatever the advocates of TV everywhere tell you.

Obviously commercial television sees this time of year as a bonanza. The negotiations for buying out the whole of a Coronation Street centre break to show the full Sainsbury's commercial for the first time must have involved quite large numbers, I suspect.

But there is a more subtle benefit. Advertisers are prepared to put big budgets into prestige productions, even in these straitened times - five months of CGI for Monty the penguin, for instance. That secures work for the best post houses, and I know the post production industry is still in a difficult state so that is good news.

That work, in turn, also means that developers of creative tools have a reason to go forward. Post houses are demanding the best CGI, compositing and grading tools. Directors and cinematographers want to start with the best quality so are looking at 4k cameras to allow for what gets lost in post. And what gets invented, or invested in, for commercials then becomes available and affordable for programmes, whichever channel they are for.

So Christmas should make us all happy. Just don't try wrapping a penguin up in a cardboard box.


Tags: iss096 | dick hobbs | christmas | adverts | sainsburys | aldi | tesco | john lewis | Dick Hobbs.
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Related Interviews
  • Cinegy on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

    Cinegy on BroadcastShow LIVE at IBC 2013

  • Cinegy at IBC 2013

    Cinegy at IBC 2013


Related Shows
  • Training for the future with ITTP: BVE Day 2

    Training for the future with ITTP: BVE Day 2


Articles
Taking on a self employed placement year
Joshua Round The idea of being self-employed or freelancing has always been somewhat terrifying for me. There is a level of uncertainty and responsibility that comes with the freedom of being self-employed, the likes of which makes me wonder why I chose to give it a go for my placement year as part of my university course - (BSc) Television and Broadcasting.
Tags: iss133 | placement year | university | student | education | portsmouth | Joshua Round
Contributing Author Joshua Round Click to read or download PDF
Ride along on the Tour de Tech at IBC
Lorna Garrett Finding your way through the halls and aisles of the massive IBC can feel a bit like attempting to complete all 21 stages of the Tour de France — but in far fewer days. But have no fear; your team at Garland is all geared up and ready to show you the best on show at this year's exhibition.
Tags: iss133 | garland | liveu | lu600 | media excel | teracue | wisi | broadcast wireless systems | bws | artel | ibc | Lorna Garrett
Contributing Author Lorna Garrett Click to read or download PDF
Ruth Matos Interview - A Career Unfolds
Ruth Matos We first met Ruth when we employed her as a student to help with our live studio at BVE in 2013. We were struck by her determination, passion and ‘I’ll do anything to help’ attitude. We became friends of Facebook and have since seen her career in the industry develop and unfold. We thought it was about time to catch up and share her inspiring story of where she is now, how she got there and the challenges she has faced along the way.
Tags: iss133 | interview | filmming | career | education | Ruth Matos
Contributing Author Ruth Matos Click to read or download PDF
How todays technology platforms can make AMAZING seem mundane
Bruce Devlin - new Some things never change. It's September and it's time for another IBC. Maybe I'm getting old and maybe I have selective memory about the past, but recently there hasn't been the buzz of years gone by. Sure, as you wander around the vast halls there will be lots of enthusiastic sales people trying to give you the best demo possible, but something has changed and to survive, I believe that vendors and customers need to change too.
Tags: iss133 | ibc | class | vulture | imf user group | Bruce Devlin - new
Contributing Author Bruce Devlin - new Click to read or download PDF
Perimeter LED screens management
Nicolas Houel Opened in January 2016, Parc Olympique Lyonnais, also known as Groupama Stadium, is the new home of Olympique Lyonnais football club, one of the most popular clubs in France. Since its inauguration, the stadium was a host of UEFA Euro 2016, and was also chosen to stage, among other important events, the 2018 UEFA Europa League Final and football at the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Tags: iss133 | 3dstorm | graphics | groupama stadium | liveexpert | livecg | deltacast | Nicolas Houel
Contributing Author Nicolas Houel Click to read or download PDF