Friday 25 May 2018

A cupboard full of the 10 greatest Irish TV ads

Joe O'Shea

Those who doubt the power of TV advertising should ask themselves just one question; "Who's taking the horse to France?"

If you grew up watching telly in Ireland in the '90s, that apparently obscure reference should instantly transport you back to a kitchen full of Burberry checks, simmering sexual tension and buttery spuds.

One of a long line of memorable Kerrygold ads, this 1994 mini-drama, featuring a rugged Irish farmer and a classy châtelaine, gave us 30 seconds of sexual sophistication we didn't normally associate with range cookers.

The ad men behind the Kerrygold brand were particularly adept at mixing the traditional with the modern, with strong, silent farmers and flame-haired colleens.

TV ads tended to have a much bigger impact when most homes only had a handful of TV stations.

And you can probably date most Irish people by asking them to remember their favourite. For many of us, hearing Dusty Springfield sing 'Goin' Back' instantly brings to mind a returning young emigrant, a country train station and a drive through the darkening fields towards a brightly lit farmhouse and mammy.

Younger folk will remember a young Michael Fassbender, swimming the Atlantic to New York, to say sorry to a friend.

The soundtrack was Mic Christopher's 'Heyday' and the product was, of course, Guinness.

The British advertising guru, David Ogilvy, once said TV advertising was all about impact. "You have only 30 seconds in a commercial," said Ogilvy.

"If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer."

The best Irish advertising will be celebrated at the annual Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) awards in the Mansion House in Dublin on November 8.

Advertising now has a direct value to the Irish economy of around €300m per year and the shortlist for the top IAPI AdFx Awards include Bord Fáilte's 'The Fun Starts Here' campaign and Cadbury's 'It's A Matter of Taste' series.

Only time will tell if today's ads can hope to have the kind of lasting impact that the classic ones of the '80s and '90s had for that generation.

If you had to draw up a Top 10 list of the greatest Irish TV ads of all time -- it would have to include:

10: Esat Digifone - The Guy from The Bar

This simple but very effective ad played around with perceptions -- the girl sees a gorgeous hunk at the bar, she slips him his number and he calls her up, only to bray "Howya, it's me -- the guy from the bar!" in the most comically toe-curling midlands accent you'll ever hear.

9: Maxol - Free A Nipper

The early '80s were tough enough for this country without Brendan Grace -- as Bottler -- popping up on our TV to shout "Free A Nipper -- Roight?" But as a catchphrase (for Maxol), it is as deeply embedded in '80s nostalgia as Charles J Haughey's "We are living way beyond our means" speech.

8: Guinness - The Island

Better known for the catchphrase "Tá siad ag teacht" (the only line of dialogue) -- this legendary ad was first aired in 1977 and featured a pub full of Guinness drinkers, patiently waiting for a currach to deliver a keg.

In 1999, a poll in Marketing Magazine voted it the greatest Irish advertisement of the 20th century.

7: Harp Lager - Sally O'Brien

"You could fry an egg on the stones here, if you had an egg" -- this 1980 classic, with Sally O'Brien and the way she might look at you, had a huge impact on our popular culture.

But there was a minor diplomatic incident when it turned out that 'Sally O'Brien' was, Padraig Pearse preserve us!, English actress Viki Michelle, who later starred in Allo, Allo!

6: Penneys - Got A Whole Lot of Things For Christmas

First heard in the '80s and revived in the mid-90s, this simple jingle became almost a Christmas Carol for a generation of Irish TV viewers.

5: Bord Na Móna - Marino Waltz

First aired in 1986 -- a shining example of a perfect marriage of a tune and a TV ad.

You just cannot hear the opening bars of the lovely Marino Waltz without picturing a roaring fire, a deep leather sofa and toes warming up by the flames.

4: ESB - Going Back

The young emigrant steps off the train at a country station, his dad is there to bring him home to a brightly lit farmhouse and mammy's cooking.

A real tear-jerker from 1988 that still resonates with that generation, many of whom had to emigrate themselves. Trivia fact -- the young emigrant is Alan Hughes, now of TV3 and Panto fame.

3: News of The World - Breakfast With Bertie

"I never thought I'd end up here!" said former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, from a food cupboard, in this ad for the now defunct News of the World Sunday newspaper. Classy.

A nation spluttered out its tea.

2: Guinness - Anticipation

Better known as The Dancing Man -- this mould-breaking advert featuring rubber-limbed Irish actor Joe McKinney became an instant, worldwide hit on its début in 1994.

1 Guinness - White Christmas

Christmas ads are the ones we remember best. And this brilliant 2003 spot featuring snow falling on deserted places around Ireland on Christmas eve, finished with snow forming a white head on the black gates of the brewery in Dublin. Lovely stuff.

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