A longhaired man wearing shorts and knee-high rubber boots appears on the screen. He's soon joined by an animated pig, who rolls into the frame on a shopping cart. With a charming British accent, the man tells us that one-third of kids in England don't know where bacon comes from. Next, our boots-wearing host transports us to his farm, events transpiring partly through animation and partly through live action.
Speaking to uninformed youth in an open field, the host says that broccoli -- not bacon -- comes from a secret compartment at the back of the pig. It's so secret, he says, the pig doesn't even know the broccoli is there. He explains that once the broccoli has been released, an eagle nabs it and drops it down a chimney -- which is how we get yogurt.
It's a pretty absurdly entertaining short, part of the YBCA's annual screening of the British Arrows Awards for the best ads on British TV, which has become one of YBCA's most popular programs.
I know it seems odd to willingly subject yourself to 75 minutes of nonstop advertising. Thing is, the ads worthy of the British Arrows consist of such well-crafted stories with such expert production value that the screening will feel more like a short film festival where the filmmakers politely try to sell you something. Also, there's something about the conscious decision to enter a theater to watch ads that allows you to enjoy them more than you might in their natural interruptive form.
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Viewing the ads back-to-back means following an extraordinary amount of creative story arcs in quick succession. There's glamour, humor, nostalgia, triumph. Animals speak. An athlete makes the most important play of his life. Londoners fall in love. They grow old. Somehow, even butter sizzles dramatically. The ads masterfully build suspense. Such a barrage of short-form storytelling should feel exhausting, but each small tale is so compelling, you'll feel a bit let down by the plodding nature of normal life once you leave the theater.
Of course, that's what good advertising does -- convince you that your life would be better if only you had what they were sellin'. But the pleasant escapism of these ads feels more messily cinematic than glossily advertised, because the selling is really subtle. In some cases, the selling is so subtle and the accents are so British that you won't catch the meaning of the one word that reveals the whole relevance of the ad.
You'll also get some cheeky advice on how to build your own ad from a slightly misguided seller of chips who creates suspense by placing a box on a table in an empty room and instructing his actors not to open it -- yet. Even though I know there's nothing in the box, I can't help but want to know what's in the box. In another ad about ads, a savvy dog at the pound records his very own promotional video to sell his best doggy attributes to potential adopters.
I was most drawn to the ads that either showcased fast-paced British humor (like the farm guy) and the visually impressive ads with non-verbal narratives. It's real cinematic mastery to tell a story with no words, like when a man and his sock puppet narrate their movie night through nothing more than rhythmic noises. I almost teared up when Warburtons bread bakers mourned the loss of a burnt loaf, covering it delicately with a white cloth and wheeling it out of the factory in slow motion.
In yet another well-edited piece, I immediately sympathized with a charming protagonist -- a can of baked beans. The bottom line is that these ads are fun. You're in for a good dose of joy.
The British Arrows Awards will be screened at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from January 26-29. For tickets and information visit ybca.org.