Opinion: Beale on ... 118 118

Forget that sweat-stained 118 118 vest you've been dripping in on the treadmill. Primrose yellow jumpsuits are this season's thing.

Yep, the mustachioed runners have legged their last lap. Last year's icons are history, replaced by a couple of 70s-style cops (this year's icons). Except that our new heroes are really just the same old runners, with a new wardrobe, slightly more facial hair (expect to see 118 118 stick-on whiskers in a charity shop near you soon) and definitely more wired. And this time there's a cast of the most depressing supporting characters ever squeezed into a 60-second ad.

The whole set-up is like the first few frames of one of those 70s cop shows, where they splice a couple of scenes from previous episodes before setting up the characters for this week's cushion-gripper.

So we have, in rapid succession, our two cops undercover in miniskirts and sparkly tops, hustling an afro wig down the street, cruising in their little orange car. Then a cast of characters in need of help from our boys: the wife in need of a takeaway (because hubbie's burnt all the bangers on the barbecue), boy in need of a dentist (because he's eaten a cremated burger), dog in need of a vet (because he's crunching on a plate of fowl's feet).

It's all shot in the sort of washed out, bottom-of-the-drawer-pants tinge that makes it look like it's been in a can in the bowels of a production company for 30 years. The whole tone is rather grim and grubby, a bit bleak.

I really loved last year's 118 118 campaign. It was fresh, smart, rich and, better than all that, it was loads of fun. But it was also so brilliantly ubiquitous, so instantly familiar and so multimedia that it already feels like the runners have been around for years (been there, got the T-shirt, time to move on). Then there's the small matter of David Bedford, who has given the 118 118 campaign more free publicity than it ever needed but who has constantly threatened to sue over what he believes is the use of his image. All things considered, then, time for a change.

This time, though, I think 118 118's agency (WCRS) has gone too far ... at least in the 60-second version of the new campaign. The ad is a bit too self-indulgent, a bit too wacky and choppy; perhaps the cut-downs will be cleaner. I just didn't get the first few sequences (what is going on in that shot when they're slurping soup and gnashing their teeth to the dismay of an old geezer in the corner?). And believe me, I was a 70s jumpsuit kind of girl.

None of this might matter if the task in hand were merely one of awareness raising. But is there a directory enquiries user in the land who doesn't know 118 118? The service has a claimed 45 per cent share of the market.

This new campaign is designed to push the fact that you can request several numbers at once. Further down the line you'll be able to call 118 118 for directions, traffic reports, service-sourcing. But the service has not been without its teething troubles (an Oftel report last autumn found that 118 118 was more expensive and slower than the average for the market).

Getting across new, more complex messages about what 118 118 can deliver and reassuring punters who may have been disappointed by the service is a delicate task. I don't think the message of the new ad is either clear enough or likely to build confidence. But it's still all good, weird, wired fun.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Uhmmm, won't match last year's crop.

File under ... P for pert bottoms, the only kind that should ever be seen in a yellow jumpsuit.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Haven't I seen those two somewhere before?"

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