I enjoy old magazines as much for the ads as the articles. The pomades from another century; the barely-mobile phones in 1980s _Atlantic Monthlys_; racy tinned pineapple in 1950s _Woman’s Own_. Returning to Ireland after a gap of nine years, I get the same sense of a period snapshot in the new lineup of TV, radio, and newspaper ads.
The Lemsip hero thwarts an office coup because he rises like Lazarus with help of this syrupy flu goo. “Because these days you can’t afford a day off,” is the tagline, or something like it. There are several of these spots, all depicting a new salaryman culture where only the strong and the drugged survive. In the same category are the pricey hangover cures that don’t even need water–just dissolve the crystals on your tongue and and you’ll stop sweating gin. Great. Ireland already seems to be lurching unhappily between The Office and Glengarry Glen Ross. All we need is this kind of Reagan-era propaganda to make Dublin a really swell place to live.
Other ads peddle nostalgia cures for this new and grabby Ireland. Erin Hot Cup–a dehydrated soup mix–claims to transport you back to an era where people still had time for each other, which is not a bad deal in exchange for downing some MSG and dried onion flakes. The monks of Roscrea have a new CD out, marketed as a spiritual antidote to Christmas excess. Barry’s Tea has a long “Christmas memories” spot that’s bearable the first time; the fifth airing makes me want to strangle the smug barrister remembering the toy train set he got from “Santa”. Note that ordinary Irish people say “Santy”, not “Santa”, unless they were well-off enough to get train sets.
Daytime radio plays endless ads for home security systems, in between debates on whether the country could afford to hire Giuliani as a zero tolerance consultant. There are prime-time promotions for Formula One-style racing lessons and helicopter courses, unimaginable a decade ago. And the back page of today’s _Sunday Independent_ was a full-page colour ad for Lejaby underwear, the fancy stuff that won’t hide Guinness cellulite at all. (Ireland is getting sexier. Hold-up stockings are sold on every tights (pantyhose) display, however humble. In prudish New York they are only to be found at $50-a-pair Wolford’s or Victoria’s Secret, even though tights are an abomination worse than visible thongs.)
Elsewhere, there’s a trend for bad fake American accents in the ads–worse than my own, which at least is involuntary. It may be a desperate attempt to win back the hordes who now choose to do their Christmas shopping over there. With a puny dollar, $300 return flights, and bad value at home, there has been a 30% increase in pre-holiday flights to New York, and Irish retail figures are down significantly.
The advertising constants, unchanged in a decade, are the public service spots for some great Irish charities–Concern, Refugee Trust, St. Vincent de Paul. People are still hungry, stateless, and desperate, and though Ireland takes more and makes more now, it still gives. I hope.