That well-known saying "hard on the outside ... soft on the inside"
is, in current usage, a sentimental media cliche commonly used in
conjunction with certain footballers (such as Roy Keane), abusive
comedians (Bernard Manning) and criminals such as the Kray twins. They
may commit quotidian acts of violence such as armed robbery, pulling the
wings off butterflies and beating up grannies but, Gawd bless 'em, they
love their mums, give generously to charity and blub at the opening bars
of My Way. Yes, they're genuine working-class heroes.
The upmarket shirtmaker Thomas Pink, so beloved of City traders and
other professional establishment classes, has a new campaign out through
M&C Saatchi (Campaign, last week). It features, among others, the
one-time Kray associate Freddie Foreman, whose legendary hard-man status
is cunningly subverted with the line "Soft on the outside".
Now you can read this straight - the shirt's soft on the outside but
there's a real hard nut such as Foreman wearing it. Or you could take it
to mean when you've served time inside you really appreciate how soft
life is outside, especially with a nice shirt. Interesting, too, to
suggest that rough is the new smooth.
All very smart, as I say, although it seems to me that advertising a
shirt that costs, to use the lingo, a couple of ponies at least, on the
basis that it is soft seems about as useful as advertising a car on the
basis that it has an engine. For that much dosh, I'd damn well expect a
shirt as soft as Andrex.
In the face of justified protests from the Police Federation and Victim
Support about the morality of using gangsters in advertising, Pink and
M&C lamely protest that they weren't trying to exonerate Foreman and his
ilk. That's pathetic, as I hope M&C has the courage to admit the next
time it comes face to face with one of its other clients, the police,
for whom it handles recruitment advertising. (I am a great fan of M&C's
work for the police but it should fire the agency forthwith.)
The real point, however, is not about exoneration, but veneration. The
use of Foreman, Tony Lambrianou and another ex-gangster, Dave Courtney,
is a veneration of crime and the criminal fraternity. To use a criminal
as a role model - a "retired" one, as the copy oh-so-wittily notes, not
even a "reformed" one - strikes me not only as grossly offensive but
also demonstrating a complete absence of any moral standpoint. I'm not
someone who believes advertising has to operate from the moral high
ground, but at the same time neither should it operate in a moral
As for the advertising strategy, M&C claims that the idea is "geezer
chic", which I take to mean that M&C is jumping on the Guy
Ritchie-Sopranos bandwagon - only about two years too late but, hey, you
wouldn't expect either an agency as "establishment" as M&C or a client
based in Jermyn Street to be on the pace.
Clearly, this ad signals the death of the New Man as an advertising
stereotype (buried, presumably, in a concrete support for the M40
flyover). Thank goodness for that, but is geezer chic right for Pink? In
Pink's heartland, which comprises the City-media-professional type, I'm
sure the ads will play well. This is a savvy market, for some of whom
there is a certain vicarious thrill to be had from associating with
criminals. But if the point is to get Pink into a wider market without
losing its premium image, I don't see how it achieves that. Because,
when you cut through the geezer chic flim-flam, this is a cheap, tacky,
misjudged stunt that few will fall for.