Best-Sellers: The Art of Screen Advertising ; an Archive of 100 Years of Film and TV Advertising Shows How Much Our Tastes Have Changed, Writes Louise Jury
Jury, Louise, The Independent (London, England)
The slogans form part of the national vocabulary and the story- lines can capture the public imagination just as vividly as a soap opera or drama. From the lagers that refresh parts that others cannot reach to cigars that represent happiness, advertisements have been entertaining the British public - and helping them part with their cash - for more than 100 years.
Yet while films and television shows are pored over and deconstructed by the critics, the cultural significance of adverts from cinema and TV has not been properly recognised - outside the industry at least - until now.
Yesterday it was announced that the National Film and Television Archive (NFTVA), part of the British Film Institute, is embarking on the enormous task of cataloguing its extensive collection of between 70,000 and 80,000 adverts. The project has been given a healthy kick- start with a six-figure sponsorship from Coca-Cola UK, which is also donating its entire 50-year-old archive of 1,200 British commercials to be restored and archived for public access.
Work has already begun on sifting through advertising gems dating back to the end of the 19th century. The earliest work discovered so far in the archive, which is based at Berkhamsted in Berkshire, is a black and white film from 1897 showing kilted Scots performing a somewhat abandoned Highland reel to promote Dewar's whisky to Americans. Filmed in the days before cinemas, it was designed to be projected on to the sides of big buildings.
The researchers have also discovered the world's first cartoon with synchronised dialogue, for Rowntree's York chocolate in 1929, and a previously forgotten advertisement for Rice Krispies in 1964 featuring the music of the Rolling Stones. The latter was specially designed for an audience switching back to ITV after watching Top of the Pops on the commercial-free BBC.
There is also a swath of work showing how the likes of the madcap illustrator W Heath Robinson and others including the film directors David Puttnam, Ridley Scott and the BFI chairman Anthony Minghella have used their skills in the pursuit of brand-name recognition.
Sir Alan Parker, the former chairman of the UK Film Council who is best known for movies such as Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express, donated a showreel from his own days in advertising which includes an advert for Supersoft conditioner which prefigures his later career - describing itself as a movie, even down to the deep voiceover and tagline: "Now showing at leading drugstores adjacent to this cinema".
Appealing to others in advertising to follow the example of Coca- Cola and Sir Alan in bequeathing their advertising archives, Amanda Nevill, director of the British Film Institute, said yesterday: "Advertisements are simultaneously commercial tools, art and social commentary.
"Generations of illustrious film directors and many film stars have learnt their craft in screen advertisements. They are an unparalleled educational resource, which reflects the often hilarious changes in attitudes, manners and morals of successive generations, but they also reveal the creation of modern brand identity.
"From the earliest involvement and influence of newspaper cartoonists, to the work of pop stars and Oscar-winning directors, the BFI is planning to locate, restore and catalogue the archive of British screen advertisements for academic and professional research purposes, as well as make it publicly available for pure viewing pleasure."
Yet she admitted that advertising had been in effect consigned to the role of "poor cousin" in the history of the moving image. In the words of Patrick Russell, the keeper of non-fiction at the National Film and Television Archive: "Advertising is a form of film-making which is very prevalent, but is not studied or appreciated in the systematic way other forms are. It's one of the basic facts of the life of the archivist that often the things in archives that are the most ephemeral at the time they are made are the most telling as social documents later. …