Posted by: splosher | 28/04/2010

Halifax Bank’s Radio Station: feeling a little queasy


I’ve been feeling peculiar recently and it has taken some time to pinpoint the cause of my unsettled equilibrium due to untimely oral and rectal emissions intruding into my life. The symptoms appeared to come and go at random: from waves of nausea accompanied with rises of sickly bile, through intense bowel excavations of rumbling wind, to hot fevers that rendered me void of energy and coated in a sheen of fop sweat. I was at a loss to find a common denominator for these instigated troubles until, by chance, one day while watching TV, I found these feelings washing over my being during an ad break. So, I waited for the next showing of what I thought was the culprit and lo and behold, another viewing resulted in my body being wracked once again with violent upheaval and I’d found the cause of my televisual discomfort: it was all the fault of Halifax Bank’s latest set of TV ads, churning out their aural dross and banal flummery in the hope hilarity ensures (it doesn’t).

In the post-recession period Britain finds itself in now – where the dropped pennies are counted, leaving food on your plate is seen as wastefulness and luxury has once again been elevated up to, well, luxury – indulgence in over-spending cannot be endorsed, especially within the banking world. So the whiz kids have gone from the big Busby Berkeley dance numbers with the inclusion of the real bank teller everyman, Howard as their singing spokesman to realising any display of extravagance on a TV screen while their intended customers have got the bailiffs knocking down their doors would probably be deemed counterproductive, so have decided to shoot all their adverts with the production costs of a Ken Loach film. Out go such heart-warming, over-blown spectaculars such as the classic ads “We are saving” and “Something good”, which are forever relegated to the slop pot (hopefully) and in comes the newest drivel: a whole series of bite-sized effluence based upon the “normal people” who work for them running – and you’ll like this – the Halifax Bank radio station. From the opening bars of the jaunty musical link to the multi-syllabic rendering of “Hal-I-fax” within its structure, whenever I hear the newest cost-cutting edition of TV-ad tedium forcing itself into the real world, I can feel my inner sociopath yearning to run amok, so let’s find out why, shall we?

We have quite a few examples of this new and exciting narrative that Halifax has ventured down, starting with the seminal “High-Five” ad featuring Spandau Ballet’s New-Romantic anthem Gold as its opening case of exaggerated tedium; then we have the multiple-language ad, with many different versions of saying thank you, featuring an amalgam of complete tools polluting the digital airwaves with their semi-literate mumblings; yet another addition to this series of discharge is the “Horn & gong” thirty second visual treat, which consists of a caller being asked if she’d like her winning treat in the form of a blown brass or a smashed bronze by two simpering dicks. Even so, forsaking the above mentioned delights, we’re faced with two of the most prostate-squeezing ads to be aired in as long as can be remembered.

First up, a new low to the world of TV pig swill in the form of a post-ironic nod to the universally-despised white rapper Vanilla Ice’s uber embarrassing hit, “Ice Ice, Baby”, only with the geniuses behind this ad swapping half the verse for banking jargon: hence, from the opening line of “Tax-free ISAs”, we now have the ultra-cool-and-hip “Isa-Isa, Baby” addition to our multiple circles of Halifax radio Hell. We meet our mischievous little tykes as they’re probably introducing the continuity links between utter ball toss and total arse slosh and the two fun-loving, airwaves-corrupting post-graduates – as usual a male and female, metro-sexual combo so loved by the viewing public – are delivering their banal giddiness to whichever poor, unfortunate bastard(s) are accidentally listening to this pretence. Suddenly, as the male clown mentions the magical ISA terminology, the female clown’s face explodes in activity, thus signalling she’s actually managed to string together a coherent thought: then whoosh, she’s off typing like a woman possessed on her laptop keyboard, further bemusing her dim colleague with this unusually frantic behaviour.

“Isa-Isa!” dribbles from her over-excited gob, which further confuses him, so pressing another key on the keyboard, we hear the opening bars to Vanilla Ice’s seminal work of rap brilliance spring into existence. To add further insult to our injured cultural psyche, this moron then begins to supplement the already horrendous original chorus with the inclusion of “Isa-Isa, baby!” and nodding her empty head to the rhythm as he nervously side-glances to her whilst trying to utter his rhetoric. Finally, her persistence at attempted hilarity pays off and his face cracks a smile with a roll of his eyes, as if to say “Oh you!” but is probably thinking “Oh you! Just take this smile as a concession and shut your f**king mouth as you’re about as funny as cancer!”

Personally, I can imagine this tone-deaf duo being abducted mid-radio ramble by a military “rendition” snatch squad, bound and bagged for a ten hour flight to the USA where, after a lengthy water-boarding session and stress positioning, they’re forced to perform their rap at an African-American nightclub in a broken-down, inner-city ghetto. Just to see how long these two lyrical numb nuts could last standing on-stage, their pale, distorted faces of rising fear shimmering with a cold sweat beneath the blinding light of a flickering strobe as the rage-fuelled crowd engulf them. This scene of poetic justice would be played out in split-second, frozen snatches of flashed illumination as we see the cretins torn limb from limb and each successive image of their suffering is burnt into our retinas, to be played over and over and over again for an eternity… Well, one can only wish, I suppose.

Next up, to further inflict the delayed lancing of this fetid, ad-based abscess and completely poison our bloodstreams to the kind of toxicity serial killers display, we have the other advert doing the rounds on TV currently. Once again, the Halifax radio station’s minute booths are an integral part of the narrative, which seems to sap your very soul’s life-force, as your eyes become fixated on the horror unfolding before their gaze. Here, we’re introduced to the most verbally buoyant but inanely simple female presenter ever to grace our screens – and the pretend airwaves – in the token form of a keyboard-playing, Wunderkind who can multitask whilst being a complete twat.

After informing us all Halifax will pay half of our yearly Council Tax bill if we join up and commit to a back-breaking mortgage with them, she glances around to a male co-worker on the other side of the glass who’s grasping an info card with the all-important telephone number. Judging by her Exorcist-style neck twisting though, her useless XY chromosome work colleague is holding the card upside down! Ah, the non-stop japery… Just a narrowing of her eyes and a twitching of her head is enough for him to buck his ideas up and once she’s read out the right-side-up card, this enterprising high flier then presses a button on a huge bank of audio equipment: a pre-recorded vocal repeats the ‘phone number as she plays along on a huge electronic keyboard, tinkling a ballad so sweet diabetics are at risk everywhere.

With this saccharine ditty ending with the onomatopoeic sound of a cash register “Cher-chinking” still ringing in our ears, she punches the air in a self-assured way of expressing thanks to the feminist defiance that’s secured this go-getter her hard-fought place within the male-dominated banking world. Just one question remains after viewing this crap and it must be asked or I feel I’ll go insane through being too pedantic: why, if the telephone number is already pre-recorded, lined up and ready to play does she make a song and dance at reading from the card? Only God – or Beelzebub – knows the real answer to her reasoning and analysing this dichotomy any further will undoubtedly result in nothing more than a massive embolism.

Of course, she’s just a career driven woman who’s revelling in her own perceived omnipotence, continually disregarding her Husband’s feelings and creating a cold, frigid atmosphere at home. To imagine how an everyday conversation with her other half would go as she walks in late from work yet again, oblivious to the mounting strain on their failing marriage:

“Hi!” she chirpily states as her high-powered, high-heels made the most annoying scraping on the hall tiles. Her husband sits in the dark, silhouetted by the muted TV.

“Hello dear,” comes the hollow reply from her husband, whose already flicked into an altered state due to the nails-down-a-blackboard effect her shoes have inflicted upon him for the past uncountable times. He just manages “How was your day…?” to slip from his mouth as the screams grow louder and echo within his skull.

The woman, wearing a big smile upon her face, beams as she speaks. “Well, I have managed to nail the pre-recorded telephone jingle today,” and with that, she punches the air once more for effect. “Right in the back of the net for ‘Hal-I-fax!’” she sings in the manner of the advert.

He slowly stands up. “That’s wonderful, dear,” escapes from his loose lips as he turns and faces her, his face unemotional and his hand grasping a kitchen knife.

“Why are you sitting in the dark, love? Has the fuse-box gone?” she asks without looking up from checking her mobile ‘phone, unaware of his approach from the shadows.

“Yes dear, my fuse-box has finally gone,” he utters as his arm is raised and the blade flashes in the hall’s light. “They’ve all gone and blown thanks to ‘Hal-I-fax!’”

With this, she turns, sees his raised hand and screams just as he manically laughs and laughs and laughs… Christ above, I think I’m going to have to get a grip on these runaway fantasies!

What these abysmal adverts have in common is the embodiment of a collective shit-skimming of cow pats blended into thirty second, subliminal sludge and shovelled directly into our still-raw, post-recession skulls via a wacky and crazy “you-can-trust-us-with-your-money-because-we’re-making-you-laugh!” subtext. This approach has always been the advertisers’ winning formula and Halifax Bank’s radio station is no different in utilising these themes: from a place of employment with friends helping one another to get through the long, drawn-out hours of mundane servitude, to being in control and calling the shots in a middle-managerial position, we can all relate to the work-structured archetypes on show.

The other denominator which the above Halifax Bank ads share is they are all filmed in their pretend radio station booths, which means everyone’s squeezed into a small, cramped and enclosed space. Not ideal working conditions, I grant you, but there is one benefit in this set-up: it’s ideal for grenades. However, let’s forget choosing one specific grenade type and instead plump for a Revel mixed-bag of anti-personal ordinance; so that as each individual pin is pulled and rolled through the open door into the packed cubicles, we can play a guessing game of what type of devastating, shredding effect is about to be unleashed upon the deserving cretins within. Would this mindless carnage make a difference, I hear you ask? Well, I’m sure there would some form of elation in the knowledge there won’t be any more middle class, white rap joviality or another trite synthesiser ode forthcoming and this must be beneficial for the sanity of the viewing public – and my unsettled bowels – so the answer must be a resounding yes!

Just as Halifax state with their title’s parenthesis, I’m just offering “A little extra help”, that’s all.

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