cartoon character

The Joy of Patronising People

 Hello you lovely little adults. Thank you for reading this article. And aren’t you clever  for choosing something so grown-up to read! Are you sitting comfortably? I hope so, because you are about to learn something to make you even more clever! (Remember, there’s no such word as cleverer…) I will, however, try to use mainly simple words in this article so that I can be sure that you will fully understand it. I wouldn’t want to confuse you with anything too taxing. (When I say ‘taxing’, I mean ‘difficult’ ). Anyway, may I suggest that if you want to go to the toilet, you do so now so that you can concentrate really  well on what I have to say.

This article – the one you are reading right now, is about the patronisation  of adults in television advertising. Ooh! Now there’s a big word for a start! Does anyone know what patronising  means? ….Okay, let me help you.

Without getting too complicated, let me just tell you that this word most probably comes from the word pater  which means ‘father’ in a language called Latin  that nobody speaks anymore. Now, listen – when you go to a pub or a restaurant, you become a ‘patron’. I think that’s because you are supporting the establishment with your custom and in providing your support, you are a little bit like a dad who supports his children. It’s a bit of a tricky jump now, but stay with me. If you talk to a person like you were his or her father, what are you doing? Yes, that’s right! You are being ‘patronising.’ So, this leads us to the more familiar meaning of the P word. -Big word alert!- It’s being condescending  to a person as if they were stupid or inferior, to treat with disdain and contempt. And that’s not a nice thing to do, is it? No, of course it isn’t! It’s humiliating  isn’t it? And what does it mean to humiliate  someone? Come on, sit up, straight backs…What does it mean to humiliate  someone?

We are humiliated when we feel that someone isn’t giving us proper respect, that they are just abusing us, failing to see us for what we really are – intelligent individuals, not inferiors with no brains and who need to be treated like children. Well, that my friends is the attitude TV advertisers have towards us. They patronise and humiliate adults and treat us like little children. I will get you started with some examples and then I would like you to look for your own:

First of all, who can tell me what sort of people drive cars? Yes, that’s right – adults! When adults buy a car, they have to take out something called ‘car insurance’. This is where the car owner pays a big chunk of money to a very rich company and normally gets absolutely nothing for his or her money. However, if the car owner crashes his car into a tree or someone else, the rich company will pay out to fix the car or to give money to the injured person. Insurance is all about being helpful to others.

With all this tricky ‘adult stuff’ you might have thought that the adverts for car insurance would be suitably adult, but they most certainly are not. I can’t be 100 per cent sure, but it seems to me that most, if not all car insurance adverts have some ‘appealing character’ to sell the product.

We have first off, the ‘Churchill dog’ that says ‘Oh Yes!” in a voice like Winston Churchill. (He was the leader of Great Britain during the Second World War). This funny dog character does and says funny things to make us chuckle and remember him. After we have chuckled and spillled our orange juice with mirth, we promptly reach for our telephones to buy an insurance policy. That’s how it works. Although, in reaching for the phone, we might suddenly remember the character telephone that rushes around on wheels sometimes with his little computer-mouse friend, having fun, a bit like a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ character. Then the dog character might be forgotten for a moment and lose custom to the telephone.

It’s not surprising that in discovering that adults respond to a nice little character, other companies would do the same in this grown up world of finance. That is why we have a cartoon character sailor to sell policies for a rival insurer. Then again, you might prefer the cute little seagull that chats away about the merits of another rival company. But these days, it’s wise to ‘compare the market’ and get the cheapest deal you can, rather than be convinced by the sincerity of a dog or a sailor or a seagull.

It is such fun to compare the market now because look….and listen carefully,…the word market sounds just a little bit like meerkat, doesn’t it! And this wonderful observation, found by someone ever so clever in a boardroom, allowed for the development of some truly loveable Meerkat characters that have steadily got up to more and more fun adventures in their advertising campaigns. So comical and lovely, they make us smile and have us reaching for our computer to go online and compare the Meerkats. You can even apply for your own Cuddly toy Meerkat. Simpletons!  as they say, or something like that….

If you are a miserable person who doesn’t love those Meerkats, perhaps you would prefer the fat man with a funny moustache who sings really loudly to ‘Go Compare’. You might enjoy the antics he gets up to. It’s like being at a pantomime. . We love to hate him, but perhaps our dislike of the character is really a dislike for those who created him. They intended to manipulate our irritation just so that we can remember the message. They have studied psychology, spending much time doing market research, conducting surveys and in-depth studies of human motivation to this end.

In a masterstroke, the comical fat man gets blown up by a Bazooka shell to make us all cheer with joy. It’s wonderful how the study of psychology can be put to such a socially useful purpose and create so much happiness in the process. We can all go about our daily lives copying his hilarious song and making our friends laugh in the process.

If you are really hard to please and you remain unmoved by the charm of meerkats or the funny opera singer, surely you’ll smile at the funny little robot that trundles along on wheels, trying to win us over to yet another price comparison site. Wouldn’t one of these sites be enough, I wonder?

If you find that you haven’t got enough cash for even the cheapest insurer, you could always get a loan. They are not serious things anymore. They are good fun, like the lovely little puppets that advertise them. Charming old men and ladies getting up to all sorts – diving into swimming pools, playing the guitar and making wise-cracks. It takes away all that worry about how the hell you are going to pay back the loan, doesn’t it?

If you have an unfortunate accident of course, again there’s no need to worry about money. A fun little character with a bandage and a funny squeaky voice tells you how to get money in compensation. It’s all very grown-up and informative. And most adverts are going this tried and tested way. Cartoons and animations are springing up everywhere to sell us everything and anything. Clockwork rabbits that sell batteries, cartoon characters that sell us chewing gum, electricity services, banking services, a couple of truly daft men saying and doing daft things to help us remember the number of a telephone service, a couple of firemen characters who put out the fire in your tummy when you have indigestion. I like the cute hamsters that somehow advertise a mortgage deal. (A mortgage is literally a ‘death agreement’ where you agree to pay for your house for your entire life!) Too much stress for me. Bring on the hamsters!

Now it’s your turn! Watch television very carefully and write down all the ways that adverts patronise adults with childish images. The best contribution will win a ticket to Disneyland. All contributions will however, receive a copy of Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man. Good luck!

(I’d better mention that there aren’t really any prizes! Sorry! It’s a little literary device called ‘Irony’ that you can all look up in your big dictionary when you get home)





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