Friday, 14 January 2011

Wider Reading | The Advert Critic - Michelle at First Direct

An irritating little girl is making whale noises in the middle of her schoolroom. A ‘stern but not really’ teacher comes in and says, in a tone which isn’t really chastising at all, but really rather slow, almost, oddly enough, seductive (note the upwards lilt towards the end of the sentence, whereas true anger would most likely be expressed with a lowering of pitch).

“Michelle Green! You and I are going to be having a long conversation.”

Cut to twenty-odd years later. A woman is sitting in a call-centre as a bewildered voice says that she isn’t how he imagined a call-centre worker being. The implication there is, of course, that all First Direct customers spend their lives dreaming of the personalities of people who irritate them on the phone. Michelle (for it is she) responds thusly,

“I’m a fish outta water, me. We’re all like that here.”

So much is wrong with this. Firstly, of course, a fish out of water is a person placed in unfamiliar circumstances who struggles as a result. This is not a good thing. Secondly, what the advert’s clearly trying to suggest is that ‘a fish out of water’ refers to someone who broke the mould, a true individual, a unique and wonderful person, and so on. But if everyone at First Direct is like this, then, logically speaking, they’re not truly individual – and why does the customer have this image of all his bank’s call-centre workers as being identical, dullard drones, if every single one of them is being handpicked for their idiosyncracies? Thirdly, why is being over-talkative related to being unique, and why is being over-talkative then presented by the end-of-advert voice-over as First Direct’s selling-point (“We haven’t shut up since!”) instead of uniqueness, when uniqueness is a positive quality and the inability to shut up isn’t? Maybe if Michelle had stopped talking shit about whales, for example, and got on with her damn schoolwork, she wouldn’t have ended up working in a call centre.

There was a bit of an Internet backlash, in fact, over said commercial – so much so that the Advert Critic now notes a second edition to Michelle’s saga, in which she doesn’t make the “fish outta water” slip, but instead comforts a man who’d woken up in the middle of the night having forgotten to pay a bill. And so the ‘uniqueness’ theme is very awkardly shoehorned in by having Michelle say,

“Oh, you’re only human, just like the rest of us!”

Yeah, sure, Michelle. “You’re only human.” Is that what the bailiffs will be saying as they repossess his house, leaving him weeping in his pyjamas on the front lawn? I bet they will. And more to the point, as she deals with his issue quickly and professionally and then lets him get back to bed, what does any of this have to do with the framing theme of “not shutting up”?

The Advert Critic's rating - 2 Mindless Consumerist Zombies Like From Dawn Of The Dead Out Of Ten

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