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Getting your teeth into things?
by Thomas Wagner | 2/17/2012
Opel Mantra

It certainly is a strange thing to see a cheetah racing a car through a dusty dessert landscape – especially if the sportscar is called a "Manta" at that. A fish out of water? Well, that's advertising for you. Dynamism and speed is everything, whereby the Manta, solemnly drifting along, just cannot hold pace. The "Opel Manta" has indeed an established piece of (automotive) history here. On the other hand, in its campaign for the "Golf V", Volkswagen took up a rather different, really quite heart-wrenching spin on this speedy feline; the story of a cheetah that does in fact touch you with an ending that isn't completely far-fetched. But of course, it could be any car that restores the speed that the three-legged cheetah Lucky once had, leaving us behind in a cloud of dust.

A 2008 commercial made by Argentinean ad agency Vegaolmosponce for Axe shower gel transports us to a whole other world. Who knows, maybe the gauchos are particularly sensitive, when it comes to sweet, feminine scents. But one must admit, in itself the TV clip is really quite funny – the man, fresh out of the shower, is genuinely confused by this besetment. So please, use the right soap or you might just be assailed by a squirrel wielding a lipstick in its paws.

In contrast, the commercial conceived by London-based agency Chi & Partners in 2010 for the Argos' delivery service does not exactly conform to today's conceptions of sustainability. A walrus, purportedly an ever-hungry, lazy and slothful colossus, receives a delivery of two fish from two penguins, who incidentally comment that they have some more in the van. Very well. Argos can deliver almost anything. But why do they need a walrus of all animals to tell us that? I have no idea. The walrus crops up once again in a UK commercial from 2010, this time advertising Vigorsol gum in a clip dreamed up by ad agency Bbh, London. We're putting down the ironic attestation that this gum has earned the appellation "cult" because it promises "sensational adventures" to cultural differences; there must be something here that only the Brits understand, leaving those of us from other cultural backgrounds entirely in the dark. For us, it could just as easily be a polar bear. But perhaps we have indeed missed something decisive about the symbolic and iconographic characteristics of the walrus and these comical colossuses really are particularly social beasts, making for jolly good playmates. The best idea would probably be to quiz a Brit about their connection to walruses at the next given opportunity.

The 2010 Nicorette commercial by New-York agency Tbwa\chiat\day advertising nicotine lozenges also comes under that category of ads which make conscious use of animal clichés, and thus falls clumsily into the whimsical. The notion that quitting smoking is distraction enough such that you don't notice that there's a shark hanging off your arm... well, if that's what you want to believe. Since "Jaws", sharks have after all had to contend with a rather brutal image as bloodthirsty killers, one they have not been able to shake, well at least not when it comes to advertising. But even they are unable to get around donning anthropomorphic features, even if they do have to constantly portray the same cliché. Nothing can save them, not even a Snickers bar. At the start of 2011 in a campaign to launch an edition of the chocolate bar containing peanut butter in the United States, BBDO, New York actually looked to methods of market research in their TV spot, depicting a "focus group" they had put together, which did not – as is usually the case – consist of school kids, house wives and chocoholics with nothing better to do, but – you guessed it – of a group of sharks. Whether the guy with the shark bite – and with him the agency – is really demonstrating good taste when they say: "Awww, Steve was delicious!"? We're not so sure.

Ddb from London used the concept of the "misunderstood" animal in a very different way in their attempt to convince the British public of the wonders of a new vacuum cleaner by Phillips. It is not only the viewer who is left lost for words by the power demonstrated by this vacuum cleaner, but a mouse too. And so, cleaning really does not avoid being a beastly tough chore.

To conclude this small series, we shall now look to the skies and with the help of WWF break into a truly cosmic dimension. But before we do, we should take a moment to remember Cheetah, who went down in film history died on Christmas Eve of last year at the grand age of eighty. Cheetah the chimpanzee shot to fame as Olympic champion Johnny Weissmüller's animal co-star in the Tarzan films from the early 1930s. According to Debbie Cobb, Director of the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary, Cheetah was an outgoing chimp in his day – he had lived at the sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, since 1960, he loved finger-painting and to see humans laugh. She says that the chimpanzee had a good understanding of human emotions. "He knew whether I had had a good day or a bad one. When he thought I was in a bad mood, he would spend the whole time trying to make me laugh."

The WWF commercial also features a chimpanzee in the lead role. Having been launched into space in a Mercury capsule in 1961, the animal returns to earth 65 years later as an old ape, to the strains of "Sweet Mother I'm Coming Home". But, rather confused, I ask myself: Are animals, and not only in terms of advertising but in a wider context, perhaps really the better humans? Or are they simply extremely well-suited as a surface for projection? In any case, nowhere do they have it as good as in advertising. But then again, even that doesn't say much about advertising.

The following have already appeared as part of our series on animals in advertising:
"Man's best friend"
"Bear with us!"
"Greenpeace, Star Wars and the dog choir"
"Elephant winches and other peculiarities"

Opel Mantra
VW Golf
Axe soap
Argos delivery service
Vigorosol chewing gum
Nicorette lozenge
Snickers peanut butter squared
Philips hoover
WWF space monkey

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