by Jahna Peloquin
The Walker Art Center's screening of the British Advertising Awards - lovingly nicknamed the Brits - has been an unusual holiday tradition for me and my mother for years. (She has a particular interest in the awards, having worked as an advertising and graphic design instructor for a couple of decades.)
But the ongoing sell-out status of the show indicates there's something more pervasive and accessible about it for its fans, advertising background or not. The commercials are alternatively lighthearted, entertaining bits showcasing cheeky, droll British humor, and expansive, technologically impressive productions nearing short-film length. And like last year, many of the ads presented disturbing cautionary tales. Ads showcased this year depict a backseat rape, a kitchen beating, a stabbing in the groin, and polar bear corpses raining down upon a city.
It's easy to see the impact of the economic recession on the winning commercials. Many of them featured the various transit and media holdings of Virgin, hinting at a lack of competition. Another mobile phone company, T-Mobile, had the grand prize-winning commercial that centered around a tired and unnecessarily extensive use of the flash mob. It lacked the punch of past year's winners, to say the least.
On the upside, many commercials made due with limited budgets with smart yet simple concepts. One featured a retro ad of a classic couple at Christmastime, with actors' hands poking through cardboard cutouts enacting various scenarios poking kitschy fun at the immovability of the scene. ("Darling come closer!" "I cant'!") Others featured cute kids being, well, cute.
Though this year's presentation is nowhere near the peak that it hit a few years back when the economy seemed healthy, it was a welcome reprieve after last year's overwhelmingly depressing content (Britain's knife crime epidemic and drunk driving public service announcements) - not to mention the fact that many of the commercials were funded publicly. The tenacity and increasingly sophisticated technology on display shows the advertising industry leaving off 2010 on a slightly more optimistic note.
Remaining screenings for December 30 and January 2 are sold out, though you may be able to snag scalped/Craigslisted tix. Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612-375-7600, www.walkerart.org.