Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Ironing out the creases: the evils of adverts on the Tube

In life we are constantly barraged by all sorts of capitalist, alienating, mumbo-jumbo crap. This is particularly true when you use the underground every day, with all those adverts plastered inside carriages, on station walls and all the way up the escalators. Holiday companies or airlines inviting you to flee the drudgery of your daily life. Adverts for vitamin supplements with their vague, slightly creepy claims of encouraging ‘wellness’. (You don’t see these adverts anywhere else and I wonder if that’s why I find them slightly sinister.) Those vile ones for cold and flu remedies, urging you to hurry back to work before some eager, healthy upstart nicks your job or your promotion. Adverts for films, music and banal-looking books (the Victoria Line platform at Kings Cross recently sported a poster for the thrillingly titled Think Tank about the Adam Smith Institute).

When you commute to work on the Tube, these things become part of the fabric of your day. As a result of the ad for Rhianna’s current single at Seven Sisters, her face – complete with the obligatory contrived-erotic pout– is as much a part of my daily routine at the moment as my morning cuppa. It’s become utterly absorbed into my consciousness. Of course this is part of the point of advertising–  to crowd the reality of our lives with its images and slogans. But I don’t know if it’s just me, or the fact that I’ve only just recently started using the tube for my commute, but there seem to be some particularly horrid examples of these adverts right now.

First offender: the government’s campaign to recruit more people into teacher training. The posters have slogans like ‘Work in a fast-paced multilingual environment’  and feature pictures of slickly dressed executive types standing at whiteboards or giving presentations. The ads are clearly designed to appeal to people with private sector experience and to portray teaching as some kind of corporate role where you can put skills like ‘presentation’ and ‘people management’ to good use. And, crucially, these adverts feature no children – either in the pictures or in the text. 

Second offender: the current campaign for dating website match.com.  I have to admit to finding the whole schtick surrounding these sites a bit weird to begin with – the idea that finding love is some kind of tick-box affair and that computer software can be used to find you your perfect match is pure capitalist alienation. But there’s one of these adverts doing the rounds right now that takes it to another level.

‘I listened to her favourite album so I could see why she loved it so much,’ the ad tells us, in its sickly faux-handwritten font.  The idea behind this, I’m assuming, is to convince us of the sheer brilliance of online dating ; match.com enables you to find out all types of info about your potential partner, minus the whole messy business of human contact, thus giving you the chance to mug up on things like their favourite album before you do actually meet them. Love as job interview. Charming.

Here’s an idea. How about, if you do happen to meet somebody, finding out, over the course of various conversations in person, what their favourite album is? How about going away and listening to it after you’ve been out together, or even listening to it with together and then having a discussion about it afterwards and maybe allowing for some disagreement? Or how about you allow for the fact that you might not discuss, or even care, what their favourite album is because you’re too busy doing something else – laughing, or choosing songs on the jukebox or getting pissed or being taken over by pure animal sexual attraction and snogging at the bar?

Privatisation is very much on everyone’s lips at the moment; it seems to me that this sort of advertising is trying to impose a further level of privatisation onto our public lives and smooth out things that, unavoidably and in their very essence, have creases. Come and work in a school, they tell us, it’s like any other business, with targets and results and finished products - don’t worry about the difficult business of the human beings you’re there to teach with all their multifarious characteristics and needs. Contract out your quest for love to an online dating site, pay them to find love for you, because it’s much easier and neater that way, and anyway you’re probably too busy working to find time for this stuff. These adverts want to crowd out the mess – the whole chaotic, contradictory, frustrating, beautiful mess – of being alive and human. 


  1. Somehow this is so much worse on the tube than on any form of transport- I suppose it's because there's no windows.

    My top two worst adverts at the moment are that disgusting one for some kind of financial service which says 'YOu invest in missed bedtimes' over a picture of a sleeping child. Yeah, because children need money, not love and attention.

    And the Heathrow airport one suggesting we need expanson for economic growth, although this action cheered me up. http://www.climaterush.co.uk/archives/1437
    We have to create our own, better advertising!

    1. Yeah, there's something about being hemmed in underground all that crap.

      Was going to mention the Heathrow one. Love the climate rush action - we deserve better than this!