This was first published in December 2003.
You may have heard the story of the heartless adman who gave a student a book crit with his hand inside a Sooty glove puppet. Legend has it, Sooty flipped over the pages and then whispered silently into the man’s ear. The man then spoke for them both: “Well I like it, but Sooty thinks it’s shit.”
That heartless adman was my father. And that Sooty was my glove puppet.
Curious as to whether he’s mellowed with age, I coerced him out of retirement to help me with this piece. (The puppet, not the father. I know he hasn’t mellowed with age.)
So here we sit with the work in front of us. Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy…
We start off with three topical print ads marking the miracle of an England world cup victory. One has the names of the world’s rugby teams forming the shape of a pint of Guinness, with the line “The cream rises to the top”. I comment that it’s a neat typographical way to celebrate that iconic kick. “Iconic cack.” Sooty whispers back. So… Yellow, but not that mellow.
The next rugby ad is for Swoosh. It’s a map of Australia with English rose-emblazoned pushpins marking the locations of four English victories, and the line: The Empire Back Strikes. I remark that this is simple and smart. Just what a poster should be. Sooty shakes his head and murmurs that they don’t make ‘em like ‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking apart’ any more. Still, I think he prefers this to the adidas one, because while I’m studying Johnny Wilkinson and his balls, Sooty starts flicking through a copy of Loaded.
The latest press campaign for Barnardos continues a familiar tragic theme: through poverty, many children are doomed to a short and unhappy life. I tell Mr Constructive-Criticism that these striking visuals are bound to get the attention of parents and newspaper editors alike. Sooty, the pedant, starts picking holes. He argues that ‘Meths’ is the only decent one, as it’s the least contrived replacement for a spoon. And insists that the silver spoon reference is utterly redundant in this day and age. Puppets… I ask you.
Sooty’s looking bored, so I quickly slide a tape into the VHS. On come a series of sponsorship idents for Ford in which people going about their business are, for no apparent reason, irresistibly drawn to a Sky sports stadium. These are followed on the reel by some break-bumpers featuring a lone supporter who becomes surrounded by vampires, Roccoco dandies and leather-clad gimps. No need to ask Sooty what he thinks. Before the tape finishes he’s stabbing a paw at the off button, whispering language that would shock Dennis Hopper’s character in Blue Velvet.
Anchor’s new campaign features naïve animation akin to South Park. Egg-shaped cows explain, in speech bubbles, that Anchor is edible and spreadable. I explain that these ads are very ‘now’ and that they’ll stand out on the box due to their very lack of content. Less is more, as that advertising supremo Mies van de Rohe once said. Sooty beckons me close. He pokes me in the eye with his left paw and calls me a twat. Who, he asks, are those ads talking to? What are they selling? “You remember selling!” he screams silently into my ear. Then he goes on about Saatchi’s long-running karaoke cows campaign and how “those cows were the dogs”. Sad really. He’s an anachronism. Modern advertising’s clearly wasted on him.
Time to stuff my old friend back in the toy box. But first I ask if there are any ads he’s seen recently that he actually likes. He mentions the Greenpeace film, but makes a disparaging remark about its star, Eddie Izzard. “No, he isn’t, Sooty.” I explain, “Actually, he’s a transvestite.” And what about that sweet little VW viral, I venture? His reply? Rather predictably: “Bollocks”.
Bye bye, everyone. Bye bye.
DAMON COLLINS IS CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF LOWE.
SOOTY IS CURRENTLY APPEARING AT THE PALACE THEATRE, MANSFIELD AND WILL SOON BE AVAILABLE FOR CONSULTANCY WORK.