Savor the paradox, delicious dissonance

By Published on .

MARKETER:The Independent
AGENCY: Lowe Howard-Spink, London
RATING: Three and a half stars


Do pay attention, and do admire. Do become lost in the rhythm. Do be moved be the idea. Do watch. Do listen. Do feel the pulse of the writing and do savor the irony.

Above all, in the TV Grand Prix-winning spot called "Litany" for London newspaper The Independent, do that.

The starkly confrontational but strangely seductive commercial from Lowe Howard-Spink, London, is a mesmerizing warning about warnings, a broadside against the forces of reaction and repression. A series of very textured b&w images illustrate--sometimes literally, sometimes archly--the litany of ostensible dangers constantly promulgated by (we are to suppose) the craven and ignorant.

"Don't talk. Don't touch. Don't walk. Don't walk at night. Don't walk on the right. Don't drink. Don't think. Don't smoke. Don't do drugs. Don't do meat. Don't do junk.

"Don't be fat. Don't be thin. Don't chew. Don't spit. Don't swim. Don't drink. Don't cry. Don't bleed. Don't kill. Don't experiment. Don't exist. Don't do anything.

"Don't fry your food. Don't fry your brain. Don't sit too close to the telly. Don't walk on the grass. Don't put your elbows on the table. Don't put your feet on the seat. Don't walk with scissors and don't play with fire.

"Don't rebel. Don't smack. Don't touch. Don't masturbate. Don't be childish. Don't be old. Don't be ordinary. Don't be different. Don't stand out. Don't drop out."

All this harsh material is accompanied by a delicate piano etude. Then, as a bundle of Independent newspapers drops to the street, the final, pointedly ironic admonition: "Don't buy. Don't read."

It is a stirring commercial, setting up the daily as a heroic defender of the freedom not to be cowed by fear and small-mindedness.

Never mind that it's a bit melodramatic; "Don't run with scissors" doesn't quite qualify as authoritarian mind control. What's notable is that the ad's own acid irony is by no means the most ironic thing about it. The most ironic thing about it is that it should be honored at this particular venue. For this scathing indictment of the post-literate world to win the TV Grand Prix at this festival was a perfectly paradoxical denouement.

Four days earlier, the very same International Advertising Festival had awarded its print Grand Prix to an ad--a copyless ad--for Sony PlayStation. It depicted a pubescent boy and girl whose nipples strain against their T-shirts, forming the figures + - o--i.e., the key icons on videogame controls. Thus, human experience is reduced to a quartet of subliterate glyphs in the ad from TBWA Simons Palmer GGT, London.

How deliciously dissonant the juxtaposition. In one Grand Prix, a denunciation of ignorance. In the other: a celebration of it.

Actually, of course, there is no print category. At this festival and increasingly in the real media world there is only magazine-sized outdoor. Copy is dead. Persuasion and information are things of the past. If an idea--or, more accurately, a visual joke--can't be expressed with a photo that wittily conveys a single brand attribute, the ad is not made.

So the irony is even greater still. This festival is running away screaming from the written word while simultaneously honoring it. Do feel free to smile grimly. But, if you think anyone in this Mediterranean sea of paradox even noticed, don't.

Copyright June 1999, Crain Communications Inc. ;

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