The new Lynx Excite advert - in which a cadre of divine-looking angels fall to earth in Italy, astounding the locals and giving their insignificant little lives a brief glimpse of a spiritual world beyond their own made physical, only for the angels to toss their halos blasphemously at the feet of a young male model who'd just sprayed himself with Lynx, before presumably leading him away for some truly intimidating group sex - may well be my favourite commercial of recent years. I liked it the first time I watched it; then it grew on me, and grew on me. Because it represents everything that's audacious, and, equally, appalling, about the best adverts - it takes the sincerity of thousands of years of religious belief and cultural symbol, and uses it as a punchline for a joke about armpit spray. Those tears on the cheeks of the old woman who glimpses an angel? They're genuinely moving. The awe of the small children, who may still believe in these magnificent creatures? Yup, moving. But behind the sincerity, of course, is a sniggering creative director who's wise enough to play the game straight-faced, and put real artistry into the set-up.
Once more. The above picture is used to help sell armpit spray. I mean, Jesus.
I think it was actually in an article about 'hipsters' where I recently read not only the obvious point that these thick-spectacle-framed irritants are post-modern, but also that their retreat into pastiche and irony is tragic, because it represents a fear that we're no longer living in a world where sincerity can have any weight - a world where true emotion can be used against us by advertising that's all too happy to manipulate our greatest passions as a gateway into hawking their shoddy products. Detachment is the final barricade from which we can defend our position. And the Lynx advert is perhaps the ultimate example of a commercial that both uses that passion and that belief against us, and then mocks us for even daring to have it.
It's helped in no small part by its music - a poker-faced cover of 'Sexy Boy' as a soaring hymn - which is perhaps the most surprisingly good example of a cover-tune custom-made for a commercial product since 'Oh Death' from O Brother Where Art Thou? was made into a stonking, sorrowful synthesised chant-and-howl for tweenie supernatural show Supernatural. The joke is made all the better by the fact that the chorus of 'Ooh, sexy boy' is repeated even before the punchline moment when the angels smash their halos; the makers of the ad bank (rightly) on the fact that viewers simply won't pick up on the lyrics straight away. And, yes, the impassioned Latin cries towards a higher power can be made to sound eerily similar to the blandest possible appraisal of a man's physical attractiveness...especially when ads have taught us to associate Zadoc the Priest with a bloody pointless series of football games. I'm going to have to take a point off the song itself for a violin bit that even I can tell has been lifted straight from that Damien Rice song.
The other thing the Lynx advert has going for it is its models. Not simply because they successfully appear to have attained physical perfection, but because the persona forced upon our female models in visual adverts these days, near-universally, is already, basically, that of an angel. Proud, beautiful yet entirely unattainable, with a grand presence, never speaking, otherworldly...
Anyway; there can only be one score for this Ur-advert. If it had also suggested that the fall of the angels would bring about the Rapture and the death of billions, I'd have given it ten.
THE ADVERT CRITIC'S VERDICT: NINE MINDLESS CONSUMERIST ZOMBIES LIKE FROM DAWN OF THE DEAD OUT OF TEN