The less attention we pay to advertising, the more it succeedsby Will Self / May 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
A Saatchi-designed poster for Castlemaine XXXX lager in 1991, when “the big, creative ad lumbered through the world”
When I was in my mid-teens I went to stay with my American uncle who, following a pioneering triple-heart bypass operation (he was always an early-adopter, for reasons that will soon become clear), had retired to Montserrat in the Caribbean. There are lots of things I still recall about that month in the intense sun—the sulphurous fumaroles on the top of the island, ones that years later were to erupt to such devastating effect; the red hair and dark faces of the kids at the two-room primary school where I helped out for a while; the deepening aquamarine of the water inside the reef that I obsessively snorkelled through, awed by the billiard-table-sized rays, and often shadowed by a lone barracuda in the mid-distance (an entity I cannot imagine I’d exhibit such sangfroid towards nowadays).
But what I remember most about Montserrat—and not only remember passively, but often actively recall—are the jingles for Radio Antilles and an advert that was frequently aired on the station. The jingle was a small masterpiece of the art that began low down and soulful with a solo voice: “Got a feelin’ deep inside/ It ain’t somethin’ I can hide…” before swelling to a great gospel-choir conclusion: “Feel the spirit, feel it! Feel the spirit of the Car-i-bbean! Radio Antilles, the big R-A!” Just typing these words almost 40 years later brings a happy smile to my lips—altogether devoid of irony. But then there’s the advert, which was for the brand of cigarettes my uncle—despite his recent extreme arterial re-plumbing—still smoked by the carton, and packets of which I frequently purloined so as to covertly smoke one in a lush tropical covert. The advert took the form of a little playlet:
SMALL BOY: Daddy, why do you smoke State Express 555s?
FATHER: I smoke them, son, because they’re the taste of success.
SMALL BOY: Daddy, when I grow up I’m gonna smoke State Express 555s.
FATHER: You do that, son.
Outrageous, no? Surpassing outrageous, in fact, more like flatly unbelievable—and yet it was so. I know it, not because I came to some years later when the anti-smoking drive had picked up speed and thought, wow!, that was one hell of an unethical advertisement, but because even at the time I realised it was distinctly beyond the…