street sign advertising critique

It seems the Co-op couldn’t mire itself more deliberately in disgrace if it tried, these days.

Not content with putting the fiduciary fortunes of its (typically less than affluent) customers in the hands of a drug-snorting hyper-hedonist whose only qualification for the job appeared to be the ability to wear a pin-stripe suit, it has apparently set out to destroy the good character of the English language too, with its recent cringeworthy attempt at a TV ad campaign that appeals to our ‘yoof’.

The ad, if you haven’t seen it (lucky old you), features a verse voiceover that has been stitched together to create a painful pastiche of mildly eloquent metaphor and utterly lumpen street cant that would make an Essex barrow-boy wince in orthographical objection.

The admirable “collective endeavour” is made to rhyme with the appallingly malformed “wevver” – a juxtaposition so gross that I did actually find myself wondering, the first time I heard it, if it was a parody.

Sadly not. The Co-op, it seems, still surfing edgily on the brink of destruction, still reeling from the ethical firestorm sparked by the antics of its very own ‘crystal meth-odist’, has chosen to run an ad voiced in a sociolect that probably resembles what was spoken in the places where the good Reverend went to score his ‘fixes’.

In this ad, the language of societal dysfunction has been given false dignity by ennobling verse, the sanctity of the media, and the unassailable morality of ‘community projects.’ It gets down with the kids where the kids scrabble amongst used syringes; it engages with ‘yoof’ where they can’t even pronounce it; it feigns poetry in rhyme schemes that sound (to these ears) like expletives.

It is that most insidious of expressions – dumbed-down, ugly mediocrity, dressed up as contemporary ‘relevance’. And yes, old crusty-guts here, long a defender of accents and dialects but also a champion of clarity and the Queen’s English, finds this to be just one more sign that the country whose standards once stood for something now struggles to make them stand at all.

Now, I could raise some rather more prosaic points, here. I could point out, for example, that an organisation that supposedly stands for community values shouldn’t really be thumbing its nose at one of the most critical of those – education – by peddling linguistically illiterate advertising.

I could question the demographic wisdom of the Co-op’s campaign by suggesting that an awful lot of their existing customers are people of modest means from another era who won’t recognise themselves in the hoodified speech and imagery of this ad, and are likely to feel somewhat betrayed – nay, abandoned – by it.

I could make the point that what disenfranchised youth yearns for most is the accomplishment of adulthood – so why address a youthful audience in the patronising tones of a latter-day teen mag?

But no, I don’t think I’ll make any of those points – at least, not in any more detail, I think, in fact, that I will merely leave it at this: I think that in those few silly, self-important, faux-hip, arrogant, dissonant, eye-wateringly disagreeable stanzas that form the voiceover to this ad, Co-op has lost the plot – and when that happens, customers start questioning the sanity of their arrangements, too.

I don’t question the good intentions behind the ad. I will not ridicule the idea of community engagement. I do not for one moment think that what the ad promotes is unworthy or undeserving – far from it. But then I don’t have to raise any of those objections, because the ridiculous language does it for me.


Picture the scene between the ad producers and the voiceover artist (we shall call him Andy) on first meeting:

Andy: “Erm, sorry guys, I think there’s a typo here – it says ‘endeavour’ has to rhyme with ‘weevil’.”

Production guy: “No, that’s ‘weather’.”

Andy: “Weather? Weather’s not written like that.”

Production guy: “It’s so it rhymes with ‘endeavour.’ You know, ‘endeavour, wevver…'”

Andy: “But that’s wrong. This is a community-focused ad, we’re not doing these communities any favours by speaking to them in illiterate English…”

Production guy: “Yeah, but, you know, you’re a kind of rough-at-the-edges-but-heart-of-gold young hoodie who speaks like that – it’s your way of talkin’, yeah, geddit, bruv?”

Andy: “I’ve got a Politics degree from Durham.”

Production guy: “Just read the fucking line or we’ll get the Reverend in to do it.”


Shame on you, Co-op. Shame, shame, shame on you.


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