Why are TV Adverts always challenging me?

11 Apr

I’ve written on this very blog before about a senseless ‘challenge’ in the world of advertising – that of the Gillette Fusion Pro Glide that stole all our hearts about a year ago. However, it occurred to me recently there has been an increasing number of ‘challenges’ set before me by a television advert.
The discovery came to me during Colgate’s latest advertising campaign, where a disapproving man in a shopping centre scans the filthy mouths of unsuspecting members of the public. Presumably after a swift ticking off, he hands them a tube of Colgate and sends them home in shame. They are to return to him the next day for further inspection, and God help them if he doesn’t see an improvement.

This is not a new advert, and I’m sure many have dissected it better than I. However, recent airings have asked me to take part in the Colgate ‘Healthy Mouth Challenge’, making Colgate the latest of a number of quite bland consumer products to inflict baffling quests on its audience to make them appear more important, or dare I say, fun. Oddly enough, these challenges usually consist of you buying more of their products than usual.
While adverts put their products ‘to the test’ all the time (the most aggressive of these was the stork margarine test from the 1970s, in which TVs Leslie Crowther harasses shoppers for not buying Stork) the first advert I can remember that directly set a challenge for the consumer was for Kelloggs cereal. This advert featured shots of angry women squirming into a pair of ill fitting jeans – Kelloggs then promised that we would drop a Jean size if we ate nothing but their cereal for breakfast and dinner for two weeks. It of course makes more sense to buy bigger jeans than buy a truckload of Special K, but where’s the challenge in that? Besides, this gave us a quick fix solution to an issue we all know can’t be fixed quickly – that of ‘slowing down tubby’.

Its a near genius concept – firstly, participants would have to buy twice as much Kelloggs cereal to keep up with the double dosage. If successful, there may be a week or so of reduced jean size delight before your arse expands to its original state, unable to cope with the increased calorie intake of which your pre Kelloggs challenge diet consisted. The solution? Buy more cereal and do it again – it worked last time! It was interactive advertising and proved very effective, despite it being a rather obvious marketing ploy.

It’s no wonder other companies wanted in on this gold mine – somehow buying more of their stuff became a challenge of which your health would benefit. Soon we were awash with ‘challenges’ which were at best questionable, and at worst utterly pointless.

Volvic took to copying Kelloggs entirely by ‘challenging’ its customers to drink its water for 14 days in a row. The reasons for this were rather unconvincing – the best Volvic and their trusty lab technicians could muster was that it made you ‘feel better inside’ and ‘alert’. While they waited for their Nobel prize, we were given lacklustre advertising campaign that followed the exploits of ‘Jimmy’, a hyper active wannabe Children’s TV presenter who has braved this quest for reasons only known to himself. This, in short, was a pretty crap challenge.

And so it proved – it seemed that ‘feeling better inside’ wasn’t as good an incentive as ‘lose a fair bit of weight without doing much’ and unsurprisingly, we haven’t heard much about this challenge since its launch in 2009. Given the additional quandary that you can get water out of a tap for free with the same result (or possibly better, if this study is to be believed), the ‘Volvic challenge’ felt like a completely pointless endeavour.
However, bad as it was, at least Volvic’s campaign did make correct use of the word ‘challenge’. Other campaigns, such as the aforementioned Gillette and Colgate, or the recent’ Asda Price Guarantee challenge’ seem to misunderstand the concept entirely.

From what I can gather, the ‘Gillette fusion pro glide challenge’ consists solely of buying a new razor – theirs to be specific. Meanwhile, Colgate’s ‘Healthy Mouth Challenge’ pits you against an online questionnaire in which you are set devious mind teasers such as “Are you Male or Female” and “Do you brush your teeth more than once a day?”.

As for Asda’s challenge (leaving for a moment that the advert features what could be the shittest family day out ever – what’s so funny?), it seems to involve spending over £40 at one of their stores, then getting a voucher for £5. How any of these can be considered a ‘challenge’ is never really made clear, especially as it appears there is no possibility of failing them.

If the Gillette, Colgate and Asda campaigns are a challenge, the same can surely be said for almost everything you do. Why, just today I was pitted against my wits when I took on the ‘Having a Piss Challenge’, and stared danger in the face whilst attempting the ‘Opening the Curtains Challenge’ . I am immensely looking forward to taking on the ‘Eating a Sandwich Challenge’ later on today.
I suppose my point is that the obsession with products setting pointless challenge is getting a little ridiculous now. How long before I’m invited to attempt the “Natwest Current Account Challenge” or dared to take on the “Hilarys Blinds Conquest”? Will I be nobly defeated by the “Injury Lawyers 4 U Challenge” that’s surely coming my way?

Frankly, they should just stop it now – we’re not buying it anymore. I can find my own challenges thanks, and rest assured none of them involve block buying a common household product.
Incidentally, if anyone would like to instead sponsor me in my charity “Put on my socks whilst eating Three Birdseye Potato Waffles Challenge” on June 14th, please go over to my just giving page at and give all you can!

It’s for a great cause – tube fares are getting a bit expensive nowadays so it would be good to raise a bit of money to help me out a bit. Thanks guys!


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