I have been in a reflective state, bordering on shock, since I saw the Johnny Rotten Country Life butter advert. It really has been a long time since 1976, when the punk movement’s anarchy and infamy – and Lydon and the Sex Pistols in particular – caused popular outrage nationwide.
Well, obviously the former punk has taken a huge chunk of change to don a tweed suit, which makes him look like a wizened version of Malcolm McLaren, and run around the countryside telling folk why he prefers Country Life butter. But who would have thought the former rebel without a cause would have take money from the folk who make Cathedral City cheese, Country Life butter and Clover spread?
Not that it should come as a complete surprise. Rotten is middle-aged post punk, a parody who is long past caring about his credibility and perfectly happy to spread his reputation pretty thin – he did, after all, go into I am Celebrity Get Me Out of Here a few years back. The current outpouring of outrage and incredulity has missed the point about a boring, unfunny and pretty crappy commercial.
Despite all that, simply by parachuting Rotten into the ad, the campaign has got some astonishing traction for something as ubiquitous as butter. The agency behind the advert, Grey London, has achieved something surprising; a talked-about commercial. I am not sure that all the commotion and hoo-ha will sell much more of the artery clogging toast lubricant than already slips off the shelves, but a lot more people will be intrigued and will want to watch the thing just to see what the fuss is all about.
Two comments on a Guardian blog sum up the furore in cynical fashion: “This proves beyond a doubt,” says one commentator, “that the moment the Hadron collider was switched on the entire planet was sucked through a black hole in to an alternate reality.”
“This is the benefit of our heroes dying young,” says another. “We only have fond memories to look back on. Who knows, maybe Hendrix would be doing Budweiser ads now and Hicks would be doing them for Travel Lodge or something.”
I’m betting, however, that the employees of Dairy Crest will not be as pleased with the chaotic outpourings of angst and despair as Grey, the ad agency, have been. I wonder what Dairy Crest’s 215 employers at Express Dairies in Nottingham think about all the chatter as it faces closure? I am sure they would say: “Chill, it’s a TV ad! Just help save our jobs!” That’s the gloomy reality of the situation.
This Keith Allen viral protest ad is perhaps the last word on the whole debate.