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Why are British TV commercials so much better?

Why are British TV commercials so much better?


Last Sunday, The Museum of Fine Arts asked its film patrons to pay to watch a bunch of foreign television ads — and they willingly did.

When many television watchers use every manner of technology to meticulously scrub commercials out of their lives, why would anyone want to spend two hours watching ad after ad? Simply because, as the British would say, they’re brilliant.

The MFAH’s showing of The 2010 British Television Advertising Awards presented the best of British commercials, and reaffirmed there is a good reason why Americans run from our own. (If you missed the showing, there will be another one Sunday at 5 p.m.)

Our commercials tend to be either expensive, excessive and gimmicky — think Super Bowl showings — or just boring. How many commercials are out there of moms selling stuff from hyper-clean kitchens that look like they cost more than the average American house? From the first millisecond to the last there’s never a doubt as to what product U.S commercials insist you absolutely must buy.

These British award-winners are inventive, beautifully filmed, and most do not hit the viewer over the head with the sales pitch. In fact, many of them refuse to divulge what they are actually selling until the last few seconds.

  • Extreme shepherding sells Samsung
  • A jockey, on foot, racing racehorses sells a breakfast cereal
  • Amazing nature photography sells Benadryl

While many of the commercials are hilarious, the public service advertising, what we would call the public service announcements, can be stark and harrowing. A Department for Transport message on speeding, titled “Live with It,” depicts a man seeing the mangled body of a child everywhere he goes. Keira Knightley, one of the few celebrities in these award winners, is shown being punched and kicked by her partner in a women’s aid piece on domestic violence. Both are powerful, but I have trouble imagining the Knightley ad getting past any U.S network censors.

American Advertisers are struggling to get American television viewers to not be so trigger happy with their DVR remote. Perhaps if their pitches were this creative and compelling to watch, we would watch.

Here is a peak of some of my favorites. All of these selections won either a bronze or silver award, but none earned the top award.


This is a prime example of an ad that makes viewers wait until the very end to know what exactly is being sold to them, in this case, Doritos. The four minute commercial would never make it onto U.S televisions because of its length, yet in that four minutes, it presents a character study that many U.S television comedies would take two seasons to achieve.

Sing-along Trafalgar Square

Another T-Mobile ad won the commercial of the year award, but I prefer this one, as I’m a sucker for group singing. I tear up and the thought that maybe a world-wide karaoke session might bring about world peace. This is also another ad that plays coy with what the actual product is.

Thomson Airlines Safety Instructions Video

My absolute favorite is not a television commercial, but an inflight instructional video. Cute kids are used to sell everything, but selling airplane passenger safety might be a new one. Even the most wise-cracking Southwest Airlines crew couldn’t top this adorable six-year-old’s ability to get passengers’ attention. If I knew this awaited me on my flight, I’d probably keep my protests at being radiated or groped by TSA down to a minimum. As a matter of fact, could we possible hire little Alice to replace TSA head John Pistole?