One of the joys of advertising is the way it can enrich our everyday language with a well-turned phrase that passes into common parlance. Older readers will remember such gems as Wonderloaf's 'Nice one, Cyril' and 'I know a man who does' for the AA. More recently, two of the finest of these have been Ronseal's 'It does exactly what it says on the tin' and Clark's 'Act your shoe size, not your age'. I once saw the latter used three times in different parts of the same weekend newspaper, a measure of the way it has caught hold of the public's imagination. Others might now add 'Whassup?', although I think it is too one-dimensional.
What I hate is when this process occurs the other way round - ie. advertisers appropriate a piece of idiomatic language for their own purposes, usually in order to make themselves look cooler than they really are. Take the phrase 'Been there, done that' which, depending on the user and the tone, can either indicate a let's-move-on-and-talk-about-something-else mood or, more commonly, a smug, one-upmanship. Me, I tend to associate it with the latter, especially in the mouths of spotty, smart-arse teenagers on skateboards drinking Pepsi Max.
Imagine then my irritation when I saw two ads in the same Saturday magazine which used that phrase. One was for the Suzuki Grand Vitara (see letters, opposite page). 'Been there, done that?' it said over a picture of a bloke admiring his 4x4 motor in a waterfall. Six pages later, there it was again - 'been there? done that?' (no, I can't explain the difference in syntax either, nor the appalling lack of capital letters) - in an Australian tourism ad featuring a couple admiring the view from Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In case you're wondering, the answer to the question in both cases is 'no'. That is, I have neither been to Sydney, nor have I ever parked my car under a waterfall and lovingly stroked the roof. Nor do I intend to, although Sydney is another matter.
My travel plans are not the subject here. Nor is it the hackneyed, lazy, vacuous lifting of street idiom by copywriters, although God knows that is crime enough. What really gets me is the hackneyed, lazy use of 'wilderness' shots by 4x4 car manufacturers. Jeep, Land Rover, Nissan, Mitsubishi Shogun - they all do it, so much so that it's now become a generic for the sector. And with the exception of Land Rover, which can genuinely claim to own this territory, you can't tell them apart.
Of course, everybody also knows that nobody who drives a 4x4 ever goes anywhere near the countryside, let alone the wilderness. There's a bloke who lives in my street who drives a Vitara, and the closest he's ever been to the wilderness is the car park in Richmond Park. So why do they do it? Well, I'd guess that if advertisers aren't allowed to talk anymore about driving cars fast, then they have to find something else capable of suggesting excitement and adventure.
So they turn instead to wilderness tourism, a concept I find almost as unpalatable as eco-tourism. If it's irresponsible to focus on speed, surely it's irresponsible to portray drivers ruining the wilderness by driving under tropical waterfalls? And what do you do once you've driven into a waterfall? Incidentally, while we're on the subject, perhaps readers could take a close look at the waterfall in this ad and advise me if they think it's real or if it's two matted together on a Mac. If it's the latter, then it's a good metaphor for this ad: cheap, lazy and contrived.