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Home > Culture and Society

Adverjism: Spam Spam Spam Wonderful Spam

30 August 2006

What do you fancy for tea tonight? No, don't think about it - really power down your conscious mind and ask your subconscious, that neglected inner child, what it truly desires. Perhaps it's picked up some signal in the last few days, perhaps an advertisement of some kind, that triggered some long-forgotten memory, yearning to resurface. Your subconscious wants comfort... it wants nourishment... it wants... Angel Delight with Hundreds And Thousands on! And... *wake*. Oh well.

No one, not even the most demented nostalgist, has misty-eyed reminiscenses of Spam. You couldn't hypnotise anyone into sharing their fond recollections of sitting around the family table, while Mother dished up warm slices of the speckly breezeblock of processed meat-substitute facsimile. It is the ugly orphan sprog of canned foods, making anything Bernard Matthews did seem like the stuff of Egon Ronay's fevered dreams.

It's synonymous with desperation, with the grudging acceptance of last resorts, with the manfully-suppressed gag reflex. It is to other processed food matter what your partner is to your fantasy of giving Beyonce one. Everything about it is repellent, from the shouty name and the nasty blue and yellow packaging, to the chunky 60s-toilet-block ambience of the tin and the unnatural pinkish horror that lurks within. But it's perversely heartening, in these sardonic times, to see it relaunched with a brand new, suitably terrible telly campaign. It's like the 'Snakes on a Plane' of food, disarming us with its directness, its tacit admission of its total value deficit. Spam.

The TV Spam spot ambushed us earlier this week, and left us staring at the screen as we did at the bit in 'Platoon' where Willem Defoe buys it. What Spam has going for it is that it actually has a pretty big, solid, unique brand profile - it might not be favourable, but that rarely matters to marketing types. They could have gone any number of routes: a cheeky piggy-back of Marmite's brilliantly successful truth-in-advertising 'you either love it or hate it' campaign, perhaps. Or they could have got some Vikings in and gone all out for the Python connection. What they've done instead is - well, it's honestly difficult to tell whether or not it's meant to be funny, but riveting it certainly is.

The first shot is powerfully redolent of the Werther's Original ads - an eerily grandpa-ish grandpa showing a little girl a model village. And a tin of Spam. She has a sandwich, presumably containing spam, spam, spam, marge and spam. They hold their prizes up to the hovering camera and grin, mouthing 'Spam up!' in time with the music (which we'll come to when we've girded our loins). Then we see a bunch of enthusiastic workmen, a family camping. The back end of a pantomime horse - OK, the song, let's get it over with, it's like a sort of Butlins Eurobeat kind of 'Go West' deal with a bored-sounding bloke singing. He mutters, accompanied on the key bits by a happy choir of ordinary voices: 'Spam up/and get out the can/spam up/just to feed your man/spam up/cos it's great outdoors/spam up/when you could eat a horse'.

It goes on through a special tea, an ann-i-ver-sa-reee and then sort of peters out into a half-arsed 'for the taste of iiiiit'. We're still struggling to discern whether this is playing itself for garish, gaudy, we're-shit-and-we-know-it laughs, like the ace Pot Noodle 'fuel of Britain, isn't it!' or Fray Bentos 'we make all the pies' ads. Aspects that back up this interpretation are the falling-over of a workman, the startled jerk of the panto horse's head at the 'horse' line, and the wondrous cheesiness of the choon. But then you get to the end and after that whole crowd lifting their Spam tins aloft like a Coke ad in hell, the screen goes bright yellow and a child molestor intones 'Spam up - for the *taste*.' We and our delicate sensibilities ran screaming from the room.

There's something Lynch-like or Cunningham-esque about the smiling, Spam-filled faces, which leads us to conclude that the thing is calculated to *frighten* us into buying the crazy Mr Blobby by-product. It's quite hypnotic. Look, they're wearing the blue and yellow Spam t-shirts that ironic t-shirt emporia have been selling for years, for sneery amusement. They're subverting our very way of life, these Spam people. They're staring down the 21st century in all its meta-cleverness and suffocating it with nothing more substantial than a beige cardi. You've got to hand it to them. The product itself is probably even gaily bypassing all new governmental or independent body food regulations, as it doesn't actually qualify as 'food'.

The new Spam campaign may remind whatever perverts out there who actually eat the stuff for pleasure to slip out of their darkened cavern, and grab a tin or twelve. It might spark some kind of revival among students, who really can't afford those luxury tins of beans anymore. They could make weak jokes about how nice it would be if computer spam were real spam, so they could eat it and revise without feeling so light-headed. Or it might just remind everyone what a bizarre little culinary throwback the stuff is, and speculate as to how it can survive in a modern world full of Darwin-trouncing Scotch eggs. For our part, we'd only eat it if smothered in Marmite, or chopped small into an extra-spicy Pot Noodle. And only then 'for the smattering of nutrients in the aftermath of nuclear war when you've already eaten the tinned spaghetti hoops, the cockroaches and the rubble'.

The ad.

The sketch.

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