Look at this ad, now back at me

Hello readers. Look at your modern art. Now back to this Old Spice ad. Now back at modern art. Now back to Old Spice. Sadly, modern art is not an Old Spice ad. But it could be less repellent if it stopped dousing itself in self-important shock-the-bourgeoisie theory and tried to make things people would actually like.

Ordinarily this would be my cue to explain that unless you live in a cave you'll have seen the brilliant Wieden + Kennedy ad where Isaiah Mustafa tells women if their man traded his effeminate body wash for Old Spice they could wind up on a boat receiving two tickets to "that thing you love" that turn into diamonds in the hands of a shirtless Adonis who, as a final touch, reveals that "I'm on a horse." But as most caves now feature broadband even the troglodyte set have been enjoying this instalment of the new Old Spice YouTube ad campaign with unbridled enthusiasm. (watch it on www.youtube.com/watch?v=owGykVbfgUE)

Unbridled not unbrided. So great a hit has Muscles Mustafa become that he has started making personalized messages for his Twitter followers that include proposing on behalf of one of them to a girl who said yes. My wife thinks it would be really cool if he sent her a sensual, amusing, sophisticated yet unpretentious message featuring an exotic lifestyle, classy sensitive gifts and romantic adventure. Regrettably we are experiencing technical difficulties unrelated to where I accidentally bit through the modem cable in three places while trying to brush my teeth with a bookshelf.

Look down. Now back up. Where are you? You're in an ad that's a classic soft sell in that it doesn't take itself too seriously. But it's not ironic, dark or bitter. It's just great fun. And to me a special pleasure is that not since Mickey Spillane had seven of the 10 best-sellers in U.S. history and was the fifth-most-translated author in the world have the highbrows been spritzed with such a down-market scent.

If there's one thing urban sophisticates love to hate, it's advertisements. They are meant to be the ultimate in vulgar, shallow obnoxious misuse of aesthetic talent. Yet in truth, when an ad is well done it is humane, profound and enchanting. (Classics from my youth include one asking "Does your garage door put the 'ugh' back in ugly?" a line Shakespeare would surely have envied.)

That commercials must try to please people is not, in fact, a point of inferiority by comparison with art. Ads only really work when they engage our sympathies and appeal to our better natures. And I don't see what's wrong with that, except, as noted, when it emphasizes our worse physiques in front of our better halves. I shall move on.

Another special pleasure is that the ad makes amazingly little use of computer-generated graphics. I'm not against those; to be honest I now wince a little at the original Star Wars which, those of you born in caves will recall, seemed like ultimate wizardry at the time. But in a world that seems to be turning into the Matrix at least in terms of decor, I like the fact that the vanishing bathroom stall in the Old Spice ad is done with a crane and he's showering with real water.

It's a reality thing. As I like to tell the kids glued to their little screens all day, when I was a boy we had nothing to play with but lumps of wood and bits of cardboard which, to put a brave face on our misery, we called "chess." And I especially treasure the authentic, gritty illusion-making in the "I'm on a horse" ad after reading the e-mail Quotation of the Day from Tuesday's New York Times from a woman who used to feed geese in Prospect Park in Brooklyn that "It's eerie to see a whole population gone. There's not one goose on this lake. It looks as though they've been Photoshopped out."

I have no quarrel with Photoshop, which I use as avidly as I don't use Old Spice (or body washes; we cave-dwellers figure fresh air is nature's deodorant and very rarely does anyone venture close enough to disagree). Geese, on the other hand, well, nature is wonderful and all but sometimes you have to side with the predators. I'm on a tangent. What I mean to say is that this ad is a ticket to that thing I love because we've gotten to the point where people say something real is so vivid it's like a computer effect. Whereas this ad is so real it's real. I like that.

No wait. I don't. My wife looked at the Old Spice guy and won't look back at me. And I couldn't even tell her that chiselled chest is just an artifact created by a team of geeky designers who'd have to Google pecs then Photoshop them in if I could get her attention.

Since I have yours, I won't promise you diamonds from which an Old Spice bottle rises suggestively. But I will say if you trade in your Turner Prize for some commercial kitsch, you could be smiling as broadly and naturally as me.

I'm on a hobby horse.

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/Look+this+back/3284798/story.html#ixzz0tqOTQCgc

ColumnsJohn Robson