Magazine's review of advertising
THE PRODUCT: BT
THE BRIEF: Show that BT is a sturdy, solid company, not some Johnny-come-lately purveyor of cheap phone calls. (But do say that BT purveys cheap phone calls.)
THE SCRIPT: Jeremy Clarkson asks why many companies make more effort trying to attract new customers than they do on treating their existing customers well.
WHAT'S GOING ON: Jeremy walks through various scenes where an assortment of companies are doing their best to woo new customers. "Golf Sale" promises one, "Triple Glazing" another. "BeLIEEEVE me", promises a third.
"Why should new customers get a complementary umbrella," asks Jeremy with his trademark dramatic pausing delivery, "while everyone else just gets...[sound of a droplet dripping]... wet?"
The approach of this advert, and several other BT has been running recently, is the same adopted in the past by fellow former nationalised industries British Airways and British Gas. It is to say that, sure there are competitors whose offerings may be tempting, but they cannot offer the same quality/reliability/service, etc.
The climax of the advert shows Clarkson, accompanied by the kind of string soundtrack usually heard at the clinching scene of Hollywood movies, saying that BT's new deal applies to their "most important customers of all - every single one of them," while he gestures out of the BT Tower to the city beneath.
It's a utopian image of national unity, and we know who's doing the uniting.
This advert is the first of two that Clarkson has contracted to make for BT, but there seems to be every chance that more will follow. The company has heralded its shift back to having "a face", as it did with Bob Hoskins ("It's good to talk") and ET ("Phone home").
A spokesman said they had chosen him because "he's famous as somebody who doesn't suffer fools gladly and embodies the straightforward principles we aim to follow in our business".
Final shot a modern utopia
One might almost conclude that the fact of having Clarkson as the face of BT is more important than what he is actually saying. Bosses at the BBC, where Clarkson fronts the Top Gear TV show, cleared him to appear in the ads because there was no crossover between the products offered by BT and those on the motoring programme. Clarkson's integrity as a presenter would not be affected, they decided.
For journalists there is a new sport - trawling through archives of Clarkson's outspoken newspaper columns looking for anything which might embarrass his new paymasters.
The Observer has already found a cutting criticising a BT handset he bought. Others may be amused that the man who once started a column: "Women. Stop complaining." is now the character in an advert its creators call "Equality".
But, like BA's adverts with PJ O'Rourke ("The whole world and his wife want to fly low cost these days, but what we also want are, you know, airlines with more flights..."), it's the attitude that matters.
Counterpart, PJ O'Rourke - lesser known but similar message
Neither company is pitching from a position of dominance, which it would have done in previous eras, but rather one of world-weary self interest.
That's exactly why Clarkson fits so well with the BT profile. This is a company which has had its fair share of critics in the past few years (not least from those who, like Clarkson himself, lobbied the company to provide ADSL in their area), so it may be feeling refreshed by this new-found self-confidence.
Zeitgeist watcher Peter York says Clarkson is an inspired choice for BT.
"He's the man you might expect to write a funny article about the madness of call centres," he says. "His role is the middle England Everyman.
"He is a spokesman for the inner dialogue of the customer. It's as if he's saying 'I've noticed this thing, I'm like you, so you've probably noticed it too'. It's a first class act."
Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
Nice try, brilliant advertising... but the irony is that existing customers know just how badly they are treated (and this ad is only adds insult to injury).
I wonder how much cheaper our bills would be if we didn't have such "stars" on the adverts? Does it make a difference who does the advert? Would you use the phone less if Allison Moyet did the adverts?
Gav, Isle of Wight
As a hardened critic of BT, I have to admit that at last they may - just may be 'getting the act together' and not before time. Let's look back in 6 months, check if customers are still leaving by the score, prices are still high and Jeremy is .......... pause......... still getting wet. On the bright side, I ordered ADSL through Pipex on 12 July, had confirmation that BT would have the connection made and ready to use at some time on 21 July but to my amazement, the service was up and running and has performed well and without any problems since 19 July.......... well done BT, Pipex (and .... pause....Jeremy - if you had a hand in it)!!!
Last point is maybe the most telling - we all like Clarkson and he makes you think on the issues - but is this advertising going to generate any new business for BT - if not then maybe BT should spend their advertising budget on lowering prices?
Chris Gray, NL
Has anyone noticed that at exactly the same time Clarkson is saying "..every single one of them" a caption appears saying, "Offer excludes..." I couldn't read any more of the caption as I was laughing so hard.
Joe Pendlebury, England
What do BT know about treating their existing customers well? It once took me six months and dozens of phone calls to "customer services" to get BT to disconnect my phone line when I moved to Telewest.
I wouldn't go back to BT now if they'd hired my own Mum to appear in their adverts!
No doubt BT is a solid company, but the so called Johnny-come-lately companies have helped in recent times to reduce the astronomical call charges 'imposed' by BT as a monopoly. No matter how hard BT tries, competition is welcome and is good for the customers.
Ken Ilochonwu, Scotland
I found that report most intresting. This similarities of the natonalised industries do have the same character as one another as was pointed out and this is indeed reflected in the advertising, with one noticable exception of the railways which have been cut up into pieces and go from weakness to weakness. I wonder what Clarkson would have to say on that suject?
Michael Hart, UK
We had a phone bill in from BT this morning that says "payment should reach us by 11 November 1111".
The Clarkson ad for BT at current is a good one, but it's not enough to make me change my phone provider
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