223 – The Meerkat

As annoying and insincere as television's Vernon Kay, but probably more intelligent.

I’m becoming increasingly disillusioned with television. This hurts me.

It hurts me because I’ve always stood up for TV. It hasn’t always been easy. TV’s done some pretty stupid things over the years, and every time it reaches a new level of inanity someone’s always ready to put the boot in, calling it the boob tube or idiot box, complaining about TV audiences while proudly announcing they wouldn’t dream of having a television in their house because all they need in life is Radio 4. I hated those people. I wanted to punch them. TV doesn’t mean to do those things! TV isn’t a bad person! He fell in with a bad crowd, that’s all. Sometimes that crowd forces him do things he’s not proud of, like screening programmes that are presented  by Vernon Kay. He’s not responsible for Vernon Kay, or if he is then he’s also responsible for Sir David Attenborough, The Wire and Camberwick Green. I think we can all agree that we’d be better off without Vernon Kay in our lives, but would any of us throw the baby out with the bathwater and deprive ourselves of all the wonderful education and entertainment TV can provide in the process?

There’s an advert on at the moment. There are always adverts; lots and lots of adverts that get into our brains and drive us fizzy. There have always been adverts – at least as far back as I remember – and as I’ve mentioned before some of those ads are still lodged so deeply in my skull no amount of pointy sticks up the nose will dislodge them. Whatever damage those adverts have wrought on my psyche has already been done and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But this advert is current and this advert offends me.

This advert contains a meerkat.

INT: Kitchen.

A middle-aged actress pretending to be VERNON KAY’S MUM is scooping jaundiced jism into a frying pan.

VERNON KAY: “Ey-oop, pretend mam. It’s me, cheeky chappy Vernon Kay, all banter and no trousers, all smarm and no charm. What’re you pouring into that pan? It looks a bit WURRRD.”

MUM: “Word?”

VK: “We-urrrd..”

MUM: “Do you mean ‘weird’?”

VK:” . . . urrd.”

MUM: “Well, you see pretend son o’ mine, even though you’re in your mid-thirties the people who manufacture Flora have hired you under the mistaken belief audiences at home will find your man-baby antics endearing, instead of grating, as evidently they are.

VK: “Blimey! But pretend mam, that doesn’t answer my question, which was what is that wurrrrd stuff you’re pouring into the pan?”

MUM: “Why Vernon, it’s some of that rancid man batter you knocked out at start o’ last year when swapping dirty text messages with that bint off of Page 3. You must remember; after all, why else would would you, TV’s Vernon Kay, who gets paid stupid amounts of money to gurn at sad, desperate ITV audiences otherwise deign to appear on an insulting advert such as this one, to try and rebuild his faltering image as a family man.”

VK: “Oo-er – I thought it smelled familiar! Listen, pretend mam, you do know you’re actually my real mam, right? And that Campfire Burrrning only discovered that part the way through writing this post?”

MUM: “Aye, son. But we display such a lack of chemistry on screen it’s easy to see why people might think I was some hard-up actress being paid to pretend you were my son, rather than your actual mother, who pushed television’s biggest mistake down her own hateful birth canal, which she immediately tore out upon seeing the evil she had brought unto this world.”

VK: “Wa-hey! I’m going to cheekily steal some of this food that’s been frying in my own melted cock lard.”

MUM: “Oh Vernon. If only you were a scally little boy instead of a mentally underdeveloped man pushing forty, cheating on his wife and making everyone who catches sight of him feel vaguely insulted. Maybe then this advert would seem endearing instead of being a cynical attempt to garner sympathy for a man who deserves none.”

VK: “What’s that, pretend mam?”

MUM: “I said you are a bit wurrrd!”

VK: “Oho! I do love you, pretend mam. But mostly I love myself.”

Vernon Kay isn’t a meerkat but he might as well be one. His job in the advert described above amounts to little more than sticking his head up and being recognisable. His vacant gurning face aside. you could replace him with in pretty much any actor in his twenties or thirties and the advert world be none the worse for it. There’s no cleverness to it, no ‘here’s to you, Ahab’ – not even an mindworm of a jingle to have you noodle doodling for the rest of your life. I hate this advert and I hate Vernon Kay and I hate you for allowing Flora to do this to us.

“But Campfire, what’s all this about meerkats?”

I’m glad you asked. Over the past two decades meerkats have risen from humble nature documentary fodder to a sort of modern day pagan deity. They started off being funny little animals who stand on their hind legs, pop their heads up to look around – look, they’re doing it again! And again! Aww, aren’t they lovely? Doesn’t the plinky plonky comedy music scoring the footage make them seem like silly, jolly sorts, and not at all the kind of desert rodent that would bite off your finger if given the chance?

Today, meerkats are an industry – and I’m not sure how that happened. The first thing I knew of their imminent resuscitation was Meerkat Manor, a programme set in a wildlife sanctuary in which, between heart-warming segments about hand-rearing baby chimpanzees and feeding bits of steak to lions the camera would cut back to meerkats popping their heads out of increasingly bizarre places. They’re popping out of holes in the ground! Now they’re popping out of an old tree trunk! Now chimneys, now traffic cones – oh Christ, I think one’s popping his head out of my anus! No, I don’t know how it got up there; just turn the camera off, Jeff. Jesus Jeff, I mean it! And don’t you dare fucking put this on YouTube.

Like rioters in a burned out Curry’s, these days you can’t move for bumping into meerkats. Even garden centres – play pens for the elderly – are infested with plastic meerkat nite-lite novelties and meerkat garden gnomes.

But the worse thing about these devils by far are the adverts, by which I mean the ‘Compare the Meerkat’ adverts. You know the ones.

Now, I was lucky enough to have been without a television during Compare the Market’s opening salvo on our collective intelligence. I didn’t see the funny little CG meerkat who was advertising insurance, saying ‘simples’ and making everyone laugh. I managed to avoid his antics for a good long time and was bemused by the references people made to it. “Compare the meerkat!” they’d say, and “simples!” and when I looked at them with a mild sort of disgust they qualified their outbursts with “Like in the advert. You haven’t seen it? You must have seen it. Simples!”

I had not seen it. But I’ve seen it now.

Whoever came up with Aleksandr Orlov the comedy insurance meerkat is equal parts marketing genius and menace. People love that little CG shit. They love it enough to have bought its autobiography, which topped the Christmas best-seller list much to the chagrin of every right-thinking human being. They love it enough to buy iPhone apps and plush toys, and all that other unbranded meerkat tat which they buy because it reminds them of the meerkat off the telly.

Since January 2009 there have been at least twelve different Compare the Meerkat adverts aired on British television. The latest one is the one that’s made me so irate. That’s not to say that the others aren’t equally as bad – no doubt they are – but this one in particular raises my dander because, well, let me explain.

Compare the Market is an insurance website that allows people to search for and purchase home, car and personal insurance. Insurance is a way of receiving compensation in the event something bad happens to you, your home or your stuff. At its most basic, you give the insurance company some money and if something bad happens to you, they give money back. It’s a little like buying sticking plasters in case you cut yourself: you might not need them, but if you do, you’ll be glad you bought them.

If you think sticking plasters are an inadequate comparison for something as important as insurance then imagine how narked you’d be if you learned that Compare the Market expect you to use their service because if you do, they’ll give you a cuddly meerkat toy.

Imagine no more! That’s exactly what they do.

As insulting as so many adverts are, how can anyone fail to feel deeply, personally insulted by this offer. It’s the kind of thing the NatWest used to do to get kids to open bank accounts with them – save your money with us, children, and we’ll give you a piggy bank! – only there was some kind of higher pig-related metaphor there. They weren’t expecting homeowners to save thousands with them off the back of Sir Nathaniel Westminster and his porcine brood, but Compare the Market expect you to trust in them because they’re bribing you with cuddly fucking toys.

Their whole advertising campaign revolves around meerkats. They’ve invented a history for them, built stories about them, introduced those watching at home to an entire town of digital fucking meerkats. What benefits are there to using the website? Who can say! Who needs to know anything about premiums and prices when you have cuddly meerkats, eh? Who needs to know anything when you can be swayed by a toy as if you’re a drooling, unthinking, shitting-yourself toddler? Free insurance with every meerkat toy? You might as well be simples.

When somebody suggested I write about meerkats for my One A Day I’d considered dissecting a single advert break beat by beat. I’ve done it before in my dim and distant past but today I couldn’t muster the energy to be insulted so insistently over a three minute slot. Instead you’ll have to make do with me ranting about just these two horrendous adverts. Sorry.

It’s okay, though, because I’ve included a picture of a meerkat for you to look at. Go on, look at it. Look at its little face, popping up where you least expect it. Imagine it speaking in its funny accent, or wearing people clothes even though it’s a meerkat and should therefore be skinned and turned into a stole for a rich lady. Aww, isn’t it brilliant? Aren’t meerkats brilliant? Aren’t you going to give me all your money? No, ignore what I said: just keep looking at the meerkat as you fork over all your life savings. That’s it. Simples.

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2 Responses to 223 – The Meerkat

  1. Pete Davison says:

    This post was a work of magnificence. I’d still like to read the dissection of a complete advert break, but I fear it might kill you.

  2. When someone in the course of the everyday life that we’re trying to lead as best we can for chrissakes says to me ‘simples’, which does occasionally happen, it takes every joule of energy in my being to resist bludgeoning their face to a smear with the nearest, bluntest object. Then I feel bad because this is a terribly clichéd response every bit as Pavlovian as that which drives these hapless simpletons to spit out their gibberish. But I am increasingly of the opinion that violence is the best and most appropriate response to advertising.

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