How Iggy Pop pushed mass advertising over the shark and broke the fourth wall

Look I’m not an expert on advertising or anything. But I am an expert in being ADVERTISED AT. It’s become a truism that there’s a constant stream of shouty advertising messages interrupting your every thought, etc. At this point I could repeat that and lament how advertising bombards us all in the face. But I’m sure you know about this.

Anyway, good news. Mass advertising is over now. I can hear it dying. Kind of.

The thing that made me think about this was the recent advert for car insurance featuring Iggy Pop. I guess I’ve seen it on countless billboards but the version that jolted me was on Spotify.

“Am I selling cheap car insurance or am I selling time?”, Iggy asks.

The curious thing was the phraseology the ad agency chose. (It’s for Swift car insurance if you must know.)

This ad references the fact it’s an ad. Iggy is selling here and he’s not afraid to admit it. Obviously, hardcore fans will answer that Iggy Pop is selling not only the insurance policy but his own legacy and self-respect here. Yeah probably. But I’m not here to assess that. I’m here to assess if advertising is now experiencing its own period of shark-jumping.

There’s something in Iggy’s admission here which breaks a kind of unspoken rule of advertising. Advertising pushes emotions and dreams unquestioningly. It doesn’t usually ask you to assess it or its reason for existing.

But of course we all do.

Besides, all advertising is meta. Here’s something I said earlier in the year – about another ad campaign:

Advertising is by and large, in my opinion, a self-referential medium. You always know you’re reading adverts. They make you think about the way advertising pervades society and also about specific advertising campaigns – whether they’re effective and that sort of thing. With other media you “zone out” and listen to the message. That applies to a conversation, phone call, television programme, radio, a newspaper article or this blog post. You have a chance of thinking about someone’s thoughts and taking your mind off the medium itself. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying that – advertising makes you think of advertising. If you’re interested in communications as I am, then you also wonder how much money was spent and what’s being done to measure the effectiveness (if at all).

It’s definitely not fashionable to make blatant sales pitches like Iggy’s anymore. His doing so almost takes it back to an older, more direct time. I don’t remember the old-fashioned sales pitch. Being (merely) one day older than MTV, adverts aimed at me have only ever been clever-clever and knowingly sophisticated.

But we the audience have always been more sophisticated.

In recent years I’ve drastically reduced my television viewing. (Don’t get me wrong, I love television. But I also hate it. Anyway, that’s for another time.) In my mostly television-free life, when I do pass one the ad breaks stand out even more. I notice them and they are even more irritating. I mean, TV adverts, come off it! Who speaks like that? How can anyone be comfortable allowing that into their home?

A case in point was the Orange phone advertising which attempts to portray your phone in the first person, “I am who I am because of everyone.” and so on. Err, right.

Another factor in my heightened sensitivity to this stupidity could be my new experiences of a minority language which – because the economics aren’t thought to stack up – doesn’t have much advertising in any format. There isn’t much Welsh language advertising because interruption advertising is a partially-sighted approach which treats us all as a demographic blob who’ll probably fall into line. That’s why they get celebrities in, it’s the closest thing to a warm human connection they can muster. They should read Cluetrain.

Whether they admit it or not, even the advertising agencies have absorbed the fact that conversational buzz is more effective than interruption advertising. Obviously the most noteworthy thing about the Iggy Pop ads is his decision to appear. Even some tedious argument about the death of “real rock’n’roll” is more bearable than anything in the ads themselves. Ditto John Lydon advertising butter. Oddly they persist with the ads but it now becomes about the ensuing publicity around the ad. And then the word-of-mouth. (Some ad agencies even have their own blogs now. But they never use advertising to get business for their own services.)

Some kind of pinnacle of this was achieved last year when Honda staged a television ad on Channel 4 featuring live skydiving. This got them loads of coverage in a press hungry for wacky stories. Especially gimmicks related to how traditional media might raise cash.

In the interests of research, I just watched the skydiving ad itself, online, for the first time. Actually pretty boring. (I also found out about an unplanned and tragic twist.)

Nowadays, if your ad doesn’t generate press, publicity and blog buzz of its own then it’ll just blur into the rest. The choices have become

  1. think of something outlandish for your advert then try telling people
  2. try telling people

Soon enough maybe they’ll twig that the latter is cheaper. All this depends on the product being worth talking about and the general public getting tired of gimmicks. Stay vigilant!

Like I said, this isn’t just about TV. Other forms of media are going meta in their quest for the ultimate advertising route up their own back passage. We should resist magazines with screens, for one.

I’ll continue to listen to Spotify. The service has all kinds of data about my listening habits and location but none of the ads are targeted. So it’s not an advertising model (credit Andrew Dubber for this observation). It’s a paid subscription model where you pay to have the ads removed. The annoying, repetitive and untargeted ads become the mechanism for getting subscriptions. It could be a rare example where ads might just work. For Spotify if nobody else.