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Aardman Week – Adverts

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As with any successful animation company, before Aardman brought us memorable films like Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts, The Pirates, Shaun the Sheep and Chicken Run they built themselves from the ground up through advertising – anonymously creating animation for well-known brands such as Cadbury’s, Kellogg’s, Smarties and Lurpak.

It is fair to say that many of the most iconic commercials in the UK were made by Aardman and to this day, their commercials that I saw as a child still sit freshly in my mind as clear as the day I first saw them.

One thing in particular that Aardman does very well is creating exciting, detailed and engaging worlds that the audience can believe in and be sucked into.  Their Smarties Isn’t It British commercial is a great example of this.  It takes you through a journey, exploring the Smarties universe inside a Smarties tube and cleverly reinforces the product by including shapes that mirror the Smarties form and a colour palette that coincides with the brand and packaging.  It can lead you to believe that the world presented is actually made of chocolate; allowing you to conjure up the taste, texture and smell of Smarties in your mind.  The commercial certainly utilities CGI well and quite nicely carries on the Smarties universe theme of Snowden Fine’s Smarties advert.

Comedy and originality are two other strings to the Aardman bow – and their repertoire of commercials are abundant with both.  Their series of electricity ads based on their Creature Comforts comedy documentary series often feature these subtle and incidental comic moments.  Likewise, their Hubba Bubba commercial Polar Beardirected by Peter Peake always cracks me up when the penguin in the background gets his tongue stuck to the North Pole (you can read our 2013 interview with Peter Peake to hear more about this talented director).

Over the last few decades Aardman have produced a plethora of commercials – hundreds in fact!  I couldn’t possibly cover them all here, but let’s take a look at some of them in my personal top 10 list of Aardman adverts:

Lyle’s Golden Syrup ‘Sticky’ (1991)

A catchy tune can be all you need to make a commercial successful and memorable. However, an outstanding tune and stunning visuals makes something that is truly iconic that will stay in your mind forever.  Filmed using replacements, Sticky demonstrates how animation can be used to bring a product to life – and what better way to do this than a combination of stop-motion with live-action sets – a technique that Aardman has adopted for many of its commercials.  Featuring bellowing vocals by the comic genius Spike Milligan, the tune from this advert has stuck with me since the day I first heard it as a child.  I can remember reciting this to my friends when I was in primary school!

Quite interestingly, when Peter Lord and David Sproxton started working together in the late 1960s, they were making films on the Lord family’s kitchen table.  Did it look like the one in the Lyle’s advert I wonder – I certainly hope so!

Hovis ‘Teatime’

Not so long ago Steve Harding Hill had directed and co-written Aardman’s stunning short film Ray’s Big Idea which tells the tale of a primordial fish who decides to leave his watery home and embark on a journey to the dry land – taking the first evolutionary step to terrestrial life with unexpected results.  However, many years before this short film, Harding-Hill followed in the footsteps of director Ridley Scott by directing his own Hovis commercial; featuring a hilarious duck couple bickering over whether to have white or brown bread.  Eventually, they come to an agreement to go with Hovis ‘best of both’ bread, proving that it isn’t always necessary to open up a box of plasticine when you work at the studio and this subtle caricature of ducks works really well.

Weetos ‘Mad Professor’ (1992)

Aardman were the first to animate the breakfast cereal’s mascot Professor Weeto. He featured on all the cereal boxes for a long time, but was eventually replaced by a new character ‘The Weeto’ in 2010.  Mad Professor demonstrates not only how Aardman can create a complex believable world, but how they can use animation to explain how something is made – in this case Weetos.  Although the production method depicted in this mad science lab is a fantastical exaggeration of the truth, it’s a fun way of engaging the viewer’s imagination – it certainly ignited my curiosity of science as a child, though I’ve never really found a lab quite like the professors…

Chewits ‘Chew For Victory’

An advert featuring a giant Godzilla-esque monster and audio in the style of a 1950’s radio serial – what more could you want?

Seamlessly combining live-action with stop-motion, this witty piece of advertising certainly pays homage to the Ray Harryhausen films and plays on the opening titles ‘walls have ears’ – literally!

Quavers ‘Oops’

Directors: Dave Alex Riddett, Paul Smith, Olly Reid

Remember what I mentioned earlier about Aardman’s ability to create captivating worlds?  Meet the boy called Quentin and his family The Quaverheads.  They live in a world that has clearly been designed for Quavers.  Everything from the curved structures of their house to the dominant yellow and green colour palette reinforces the brand.  Even their heads look like Quavers – clever design! When I first saw this ad I honestly thought it was a brand new TV show (it certainly has the scope for it) and I wanted to see what happens next after the thirty seconds were up.  

Aardman did produced other Quavers commercials, Tangy Tomato and Looney Tunes Tazos (which was also advertising Monster Munch) but I still wanted more.  Let’s hope they are commissioned to produce that Quavers TV series one day!

Tennent’s Lager ‘Pintlings’ (2001)

Director: Darren Walsh

How did they do it?  Are they real pint glasses?  This is amazing!  These were the first thoughts that went through my head when I first saw Pintlings in 2001.  Several seconds later I was absorbed completely by the plot unfolding before me on screen.  This commercial takes the phrase ‘I could murder a pint’ seriously in a gritty world of anthropomorphised pints of beer.  To achieve this, Aardman puppeteered real pints of Tennent’s lager on a live-action set, composited with stop-motion legs, arms and mouths – incredible.

Be sure to take a look at the other Tennent’s commercial, Body Armour.

Weetabix ‘Pirates’

Decades before The Pirates! Aardman brought us Pirates for Weetabix.  This commercial’s superb style celebrates stop-motion by making it clear to the audience that they are watching something that is truly tangible.  Good examples of this are the series of planes resembling waves and the use of iterated character animation.  After watching this ad it leaves you feeling inspired and longing to animate.  Directed by Richard Starzak, Aardman’s first employee.

Jacob’s ‘Cracking’

Director: Darren ‘Chopsy’ Robbie

Who loves nothing more than crackers (except cheese)?  Wallace of course.  It always seemed inevitable that one day Nick Park‘s creations would be advertising Jacob’s Crackers and it’s a good job they did.  With the production of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit around the corner it could be that this advert along with the TV series Wallace and Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions served as an opportunity for Aardman to further refine their craft in anticipation of the upcoming feature film. The popularity of the duo in advertising worked even subliminally as a mere, unsolicited mention of “Wendsleydale” in the short films increased demand for the cheese which delighted the creamery which was ready to close down due to a fall in sales.

Chevron Cars Ad Montage

This is a series of commercials rather than just the one, but if you haven’t seen many of them then here’s your chance to indulge yourself in almost 12 minutes of Aardman animations automotive abundance!  You can also find more here on Aardman’s website.

American audiences will be most familiar with the Chevron commercials and since the 1980’s Aardman has produced over 40 of these ads.  Like the electricity commercials they follow the successful Creature Comforts format; featuring talking cars that endorse the use of Chevron fuel.

At 3:40 in this video you will see what appears to be Gromit on rollerskates, or is it?

Ultimate Lurpak Butter Adverts Commercials (1986 – 2003)

We can’t have a top 10 list of Aardman commercials without mentioning the Lurpak Butter ads.  This is also a series of commercials rather than just one and for almost twenty years Aardman produced many Lurpak commercials featuring ‘the man made of butter’ Douglas – remember him?  Each commercial seamlessly mixed the claymation Douglas with a live action set, which was always a ‘dining room table’ – cleverly reinforcing the product advertised.  The first commercial was in 1986 and featured Douglas attempting to play Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Flight of The Bumblebee on a trombone!

Many of the commercials featured very comical (and sometimes romantic) exchanges between the narrator Penelope Keith (The Good Life and To The Manor Born) and Douglas, through his onscreen antics.  The advertising campaigns were lead by Peter Lord and many parallels can be drawn between the characters Douglas and Morph in terms of their look and animation style.  The Aardman Lurpak commercials will forever stay in my mind.  How they have taken a simple concept and through it, conveyed an array of stories that are engaging, hilarious and emotional is truly remarkable – surely Douglas will be remembered as one of the most iconic characters in the history of advertising.

Happy 40th Aardman! There are so many other commercials that we could have mentioned.  Did we miss your favourite Aardman Ad? Please comment below to tell us what your top 10 would be and for many more awesome Aardman adverts check out their site here for hundreds more! 

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