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The 10 best Irish television ads

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THE ad most fondly remembered by the ad people is this Harp ad from the 1970s. It starts with the ex-pat Irishman in Saudi Arabia where it was so hot that you could cook an egg on the bonnet of a car "if you had an egg" (as he said).

So ex-pat Pat ends up going home to see all the things he's missed including local lash Sally O'Brien "and the way she might look at you". The ad was produced by a company called Arks, and was written by Frank Sheerin. Sally O'Brien herself was played by model Vicky Michelle who went on to a starring role in 'Allo 'Allo.

"Why is it such a great ad?" asks Laurence Keogh from McConnells advertising. "Well it was the 1970s and they were tapping into the fact that a lot of people had to go abroad for work. So there's a guy who goes away from Ireland and he's looking at Ireland with an outsider's eye. It was also beautifully written. The phrasing is just perfect.

And then there's the mythic thing . . . Sally's like a symbol of Ireland. She's like a Cathleen Ni Houlihan figure. It taps into something people were thinking of at a period in time."

Sean Moncrieff remembers the ad as a standout in a monochrome Ireland. "Normally things were depicted as quite grim, " he says. "Everything was black and white in the 1970s, and this was an ad where people weren't ugly, and they'd gone to some place that wasn't Kilburn. It was Saudi Arabia, where it was hot."

Of course it didn't have a huge amount of competition.

"They still had adverts in the '70s where there'd be no moving pictures at all, " remembers Sean. "There'd just be a picture of a bed and the words 'Furniture Shop'. The ad I really remember was for 'Chana-unction'. The slogan was 'it's a quare name but great stuff.' At the time the only ads with any advertising spend were for farmers. Presumably 'Chana-unction' was some sort of cream you'd put on a cow's arse."


"REMEMBER: 1 Look for a safe place. 2 Don't hurry, stop and wait. 3 Look all around and listen, before you cross the road!"

Thus went the little country song in the Safe Cross Code, which kept a whole generation safe from road carnage, and probably accounts for the enduring success of country 'n' Irish music. In fact, it's so ingrained in the memories of whole generations of Irish children it could be the national anthem.

Most crucially, however, the ad's narrator and presenter was Judge, the dog/puppet from Wanderly Wagon, the best children's show ever. Judge was the perfect choice.

"Podge and Rodge would be wrong for an ad like that, " says Keogh. "But Judge wasn't irreverent. He wasn't trendy. He was kind of paternalistic. So he was perfect for delivering an important message like that."

In fact, in these lost times Judge seems to have an almost presidential aura. He's sensible, vaguely regal and speaks with unironic authority. And a puppet is never going to let you down, unlike a real-life famous person. "Take Brian Ferry, who was used for Marks and Spencer recently, " says Laurence. "He was meant to make the older market feel cool, but then he said something about how he admired the Nazis' corporate imagery and suddenly they had a disaster on their hands. . . But Judge would never go off message."

So Judge is good because he's unlikely to praise the Nazis.

Nor will he turn up on the balcony of a New York hotel coked out of his mind with a prostitute in his bed. "That would cause a lot of brand damage, " admits Laurence.

"But you're playing it safe with a puppet. . . I recommend it."



A CLASSIC theme in Irish advertising seems to be old Ireland meeting new. In this ad the beautiful music of the Dubliners' fiddle player John Sheahan accompanied a montage of Aran-jumper clad trad musicians and a glamorous looking yuppie couple, all united by an open fire.

Lovely it was.

"The Marino Waltz ad for Bord Na Mona was a real classic, " says Laurence Keogh. "The main thing about it is that it was one of the first really good lifestyle ads in this country. The '80s came really late to Ireland and I think you knew they had arrived because of that ad. It had elegant people in it. I think the reason people knew the '80s would be different was that vignette with the pretty girl kicking her shoes off on the carpet. It instantly made people think 'Oh how lovely. That's what I want'. It was aspirational. And that was really tapping into the spirit of the time. Of course it wouldn't have been a classic ad without that music."

"It's just so comforting . . . the warmth of the fire and that piece of music, " adds Deirdre Gunning of DDFH & B. "A lot of good ads have something intangible about them and they reach into something that you just can't put your finger on.

I think home strikes a real chord with Irish people and home fires burning."



SOMETIMES an ad needs a trusted presence.

Quinnsworth had the dependable presence of their marketing manager Maurice Pratt, Daz had the light step of Marty Whelan, and Surf had the queen of them all, Mary McEvoy, or, Biddy from Glenroe. For most of her tenure on the soap she was the essence of white-bread goodness and the Surf ads used this to hawk washing powder.

"I actually wrote those myself, " says Laurence Keogh.

"And over time we wrote ads that parodied them. We did one for 'People in Need' where we had Miley from Glenroe doing Mary's part and he was saying "if I told you that there was a washing powder that got your whole wash really white would you believe it?" It was funny, but the reason it was funny was because people already had a soft spot for the ad in spite of themselves. When that happens an ad campaign can really take on a life of its own. We can respond to what people are saying and we can build into the next one. So in the final ones for that campaign we had Mary McEvoy meeting the checkout guy who says 'go on say it. . . say the line.'" And she always said . . . "If you're not happy, Lever Brothers will give you your money back."

And we always believed her. Go on Biddy.



WHAT can you say about these three classics? Barney and Beaney were two animated fellows with suits, hats and umbrellas, the epitome of well-dressed Irish bachelors about town who happened to love Bachelors Beans and probably went to mass. Unlike the the Harp ad, there was no repressed sexuality brewing between Barney and Beaney. They were as wholesome as. . . a plate of beans.

Another animated classic was designed by Des O'Meara for Lyons Tea. For years Lyons featured these black and white minstrels dancing and singing "Buy Lyons Tea, Drink Lyons Tea, Love Lyons Tea". Granted in this day and age (and probably even in that day and age) black and white minstrels are seen as a racist stereotype, but in the monochrome world of Ireland pre-1990 there weren't many people of other races around to take offence.

Then we had the Kimberly, Mikado and Coconut Cream ads in which Maureen Potter presented biscuits to three puppets . . . Kimberly (a cowboy), Cococut Cream (a little girl) and Mikado (a comedy Chinaman), and it was always followed by the memorable jingle . . . "Kimberly, Mikado and Coconut Creams, someone you love, will love some Mum!"

"I suppose many ads become viewed as classics because the products themselves are viewed with nostalgia, " says Dr Debbie Ging who teaches a course in analysing advertising at UCD.

"They all remind us of our childhood and you can't get them anywhere else. The Kimberly, Mikado and Coconut Creams jingle is probably etched in the memory of anyone born in the '60s or early '70s. When we sing it now we are evoking in a very self-conscious way a whole repertoire of childhood memories about Ireland."


AS Guinness drinkers know, the time in which a good pint is being prepared is a tantalising limbo period. In the early '90s Guinness decided to try something new. Instead of depicting the black stuff settling like waves to the shore (the sea has featured strongly in its ad campaigns over the years) they decided to show what someone might do whilst waiting for their pint. They ended up with actor Joe McKinney dancing in an unusual fashion to interesting music. But it could have been somewhat different. . .

"Back in 1994 I went to an audition and as far as I was concerned it was just another job, " says Joe McKinney.

"The premise for the audition was 'what would you do while you were waiting for a pint to settle?' and I emulated taking a piss because I figured, you go up to the bar, order a pint, go to the jacks, come back and your pint is ready."

Thankfully for this is not what they showed in the final ad, preferring the idea of a dancing man to a urinating man, so the Guinness dance was born. "It was something nobody had seen before, " says Laurence Keogh. "And the amazing thing about it was that it reflected this product truth that you have to sit around waiting for a pint of Guinness to settle. It ended up being a classic."

Pretty quickly Joe was being recognised on the street, and the dance was emulated by hilarious and wittily drunk people around the country. In fact, being Joe McKinney in 1995 must have required the patience of a saint. "It was great at first, but it did get a bit annoying after a while, " admits Joe with a sigh. "I mean I'm an actor. I do other things.

But I'm very proud of it now. It's a great piece of work."


BEFORE you could get Playboy in Irish shops, before the arrival of internet pornography, the most sexual thing in Ireland was this Kerrygold ad. The plot is simple . . . two French chaps come in from a day's fishing into the home of an Irish family. One of them goes up to the lovely lady of the house and says "Iz zere somezing I can 'elp?"

The lady of the house replies, "you can put a bit of butter on the spuds there Andre." Andre goes to pick up the Kerrygold and says "Kerrygold, you have zis in Ireland too?"

It's hard to get across how full of sexual energy this ad was. "The Kerrygold ads were tapping into the idea that there is something quite seductive about repressed Irish sexuality, " says Dr Ging. "Throw a handsome French man into a traditional Irish kitchen and suddenly there is a kind of frisky energy simmering below the surface with all kinds of looks, nods and winks exchanged between various members of the family. I think the charm of those ads is that they reaffirm and yet at the same time knock fun out of certain notions about Irishness. They allow us to laugh at ourselves but fondly."

And they don't give too much away. We don't get back story and we don't get closure.

"The Kerrygold ad is open-ended, " says Stuart Fogarty, managing director of AFA O'Meara. "So it gets people questioning. It keeps the story going. And that involves people because they can't help wondering what happens next. It's like a soap opera."

A dirty soap opera. Many wags have questioned some of the dialogue over the years. But Sean Moncrieff hits the nail on the head. "I don't remember the ad too well, " he says. "But there are some echoes of Last Tango in Paris in the line 'put a bit of butter on the spuds there Andre'."



WHETHER by accident or design, this ad for the Financial Regulator is slowly embedding itself in the national consciousness. It features a bus full of people spontaneously confessing their ignorance of financial matter, ("I don't know what a tracker mortgage is", "I don't know what APR means" etc), until finally the voiceover tells us about the Financial Regulator, and a girl declares "Oh no I'm in the wrong ad!"

So far, so cheesy and inane. But this sting has already become a cultural force, being re-enacted on a weekly basis by drunk people on public transport around the country (just check youtube. com for examples). Whether these people are ridiculing the ad or paying homage to it is beside the point. In another thousand years it could be the bedrock of a whole religion with children learning the text by rote, and scrolls of scripture written to interpret it.

And whether we're laughing with them or at them is also irrelevant, because now I know about the Financial Regulator, and that's what advertising is all about.


ALTHOUGH recently made, these award winning Amstel ads were instant classics. Featuring a quartet of ne'er-dowells slagging each other in different historic/mythic scenarios (with Christopher Columbus on his way to the New World, at the siege of Troy, or leading the animals onto Noah's Ark).

These were big budget, attention grabbing and most importantly they were inherently Irish in their humour (ie, they feature chancers undermining history). In the Noah ad, the punch-line is that Noah has forgotten the unicorns, but it's made funnier by the way the actor, Daffyd O'Shea, gestures at the animals and says "he forgot. . . these yokes!"

"The target market were mid-20s guys in their first job who like nothing more than catching up with the lads after work and having a few pints, " said Deirdre Gunning of DDFH&B, the company responsible for these ads. "We wanted to tap into their humour and the banter in a fresh way. It came from the logo 'brewed in the Amstel tradition'.

The creatives started looking at that and basically said 'what if we started to subvert history?'" Stuart Fogarty thinks irreverent humour always goes down well on this island. "Irish commercials designed for Irish people tend to work better than something aimed universally, " he says. "And the Irish love humour and a smile. We like to have that banter, a bit of fun, a bit of crack."

Of course it can go horribly wrong. Harp's current ad campaign features some Northern Irish lads being 'humorous' towards foreign people, but it's a bit nasty and borderline racist (and not charmingly racist like the Lyons minstrels ads)."

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Back To Top >> 18/11/2007

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