Monthly Archives: October 2017

Retrospective: The Frosties Kid

About ten years ago, there was an advert for Frosties on television that has since entered the annals of history as one of the most important of all time. I’m talking, of course, about the infamous ‘Frosties kid’ ad.

There was something about it that captured the imagination. It had everything. An insanely annoying jingle. Bizarre visuals. Nonsensical lyrics. And a child star with a face that you could never, ever, not even if we’re living in an infinite universe that is constantly expanding and contracting in a never-ending series of bangs and crunches with us bound to repeat our actions in perpetuity à la Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence, EVER get tired of punching.

Oh that poor kid. The rumours that swirled around him. Was he a dying cancer patient whose last wish was to star in a Frosties ad? Was it true that his own father had killed him out of shame after the ad aired? Was he really a being conjured from the psyche of a madman, what the Tibetan mystics might refer to a tulpa? What all these rumours had in common was that they attempted to provide context to the advert. An attempt to explain something that is inherently inexplicable and unknowable. When ignorance flourishes, religion fills the gaps, and so we imagined our own creation myths for the ad.

But I’ve always found that the kid is the least interesting thing about the advert. Plenty of better writers than I have bothered to track down the kid and ask him about it, and it’s never that illuminating or interesting. Here’s a fine effort from Vice. And another from The Tab. Meh, give them a read I guess. We have bigger things to discuss.

Like, just what were the creative team thinking on this one? Reverse-creative-engineering the ad, I guess they worked from the classic Frosties tagline “they’re great!” and decided to expand that into a whole song? But like a really annoying song?

Which brings us to an interesting aside; is ‘annoying advertising’ effective? I don’t always buy the ‘well, it gets you talking about it!’ line. I don’t like the idea that advertisers are deliberately trying to annoy people. If true, that’d be the most cynical horrible thing ever, and do no favours for an industry that is already regarded as pretty cynical and horrible. But then again, GoCompare’s campaign for the last couple of years has been pretty transparent about its own annoyingness. But who knows? I guess the question we need to settle is whether this advert is deliberately meant to be annoying. And I’m saying no – it’s just targeted weirdly.

The advert is clearly aimed at kids. Specifically kids exactly like the one in the advert. And I don’t think ‘annoying ads’ work on kids. Catchy, fun advertising does, and that’s what this is meant to be. The ad wants kids to know one thing: Frosties taste great. Everything else is just window dressing to help sell that idea. And I think this the point at which things got weird in the ideas meeting.

They realised that ‘great’ rhymes with lots of words! Lots of fun words that can have wacky visuals. Except they got carried away. In the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Just because an idea sort of works on paper, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to do it. And the danger is that you get too far along the line with the idea before you realise it’s not going to work out. If you work in any kind of creative industry, you’re probably familiar with this. The slow realisation that an idea is a dud, but you’re already committed to it and the emotional weight of the sunk cost fallacy means you have to keep going through with it. This advert has all the hallmarks of exactly this happening.

I will now methodically go through the ad and identify all the weird stuff in it.

1. The Alarm Clock Sequence

Why does this kid have a bizarre Rube Goldberg machine of an alarm clock that dispenses Frosties? I guess they thought it’d be cool because kids like wacky inventions and gadgets, but it honestly raises more questions than anything. It doesn’t come up again, which just seems like bad screenwriting.

And the logistics of the machine make no sense. It’s an alarm clock, but it also serves a bowl of Frosties. His line is “I can hear the sound of Frosties hitting my plate” but the alarm clock also rings – so what’s waking him up? And what’s the benefit of having just a bowl of Frosties? You’d need milk to be able to actually eat them, and surely he doesn’t have a jug of old room-temperature milk sitting around as part of this contraption.

He also goes from bed to corridor without picking up the bowl or getting changed, but then appears fully dressed holding a bowl. The continuity is all over the place here. Or is it an attempt to reflect the non-linearity of dreams, wherein we experience events but without the intervening transitions? Is this a dream then? Only Tony knows.

2. “With Tony our mate”

The fact that the Frosties kid lives in a house with two siblings and no parents, with Tony acting as a kind of foster-father figure, is the least weird part of this ad.

3. “Even ladies who wait”

Wow. The third rhyme in and we’re already stretching. Plate and mate were pretty good, although I don’t necessarily accept that a bowl is a plate. But ‘ladies who wait’ is just unforgivable. This is the point that the advert should have been cancelled, everyone involved fired, and sent home to think on their sins. But no, this exists and we forever have to occupy the same universe as it.

The awkward phrasing of it is just so bad. Surely nothing could top th-

4. “Or a pir-ate”

Nobody says pirate like this. It’s only being said like this in order for the rhyme to work. Hey Mr Copywriter, next time try picking words that actually rhyme, yeah?

Also Frosties would be a poor choice of food for a pirate due to the difficulty of keeping milk fresh at sea, and its high sugar content at a time when dental hygiene standards were much lower than today.

5. “And your teenage brother who’s out on a date”

We are now playing the game of “fit as many syllables as possible into a line to make it work”. Seriously bro, leave some room for the rest of us. Also why are they in the Swiss Alps at this point? A lot of this advert indicates they had a huge budget for the visual design and didn’t know what to do with it.

6. “If you live in Oz, mate”

They already used “mate”. It was the second rhyme. But at least we get to see an offensive caricature of an Australian person, with what appears to be Crocodile Dundee playing a didgeridoo?

7. “Or the Empire State”

This one hurts my brain. He clearly says “Empire State”. Why not “The United States”? I get that the visual is the Empire State Building, but it would work anyway. And why is there a weird lizard monster climbing the building? Did they worry that KING KONG WAS GONNA SUE THEM? Or in this universe does that monster actually permanently live on top of the Empire State?

8. “Ladies with personalised number plates”

Real specific again, lads. Also, this is the second use of ‘plate’ as the rhyme, just with an s at the end. Lazy writing.

9. “A bloke in a crate”

Getting surreal now. Why is the ‘bloke’ a stereotypical English man in a bowler hat? Was this video directed by René Magritte?

10. Ending

By this point the child has amassed an army of followers. They follow him down the road like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, and he eventually rises up into the sky and-

Wait.

Wait just a minute.

I suddenly get it. I know what this advert is.

A young man, that travels around performing miraculous acts, slowly building up a loyal following, spreading a message of love and positivity?

OH MY GOD

The Frosties Kid confirmed for Jesus.

This advert confirmed for subtle pro-Christian propaganda.

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight”.
– Acts 1:9

Did David Bowie predict memes?

Ok, shut up and watch this.

Watch it a few more times. It’s two seconds long. Watch it like fifty times.

Watch it, and then tell me that David Bowie didn’t just say “meme school”.

HE TOTALLY DOES, RIGHT?

I want to investigate just what is going on here. Because it’s so weird and fantastic and the fact it’s David Bowie just makes it all that much more magical and interesting. So let’s start at the beginning.

This is a clip from a 2002 ‘Live By Request’ show. Live By Request was a program on the A&E Network in the US that was basically a phone-in show where artists would play songs as requested by callers. It’s a pretty cool idea, and the Bowie one is, of course, amazing. Here’s the full thing.

Anyway, the interesting bit occurs about 1hr35mins in. He’s talking about his early days. Transcript as follows:

INTERVIEWER
A lot of people don’t know, you studied as a mime when you were starting?

BOWIE
I’m afraid I did, yeah it’s vulgar.
I couldn’t get into clown school, so I ended up with mime school.
There were so many more vacancies!

PAUSE

BOWIE
[LOOKS AROUND. SMILES]
Meme school.

So it’s clear that Bowie is talking about mime school, right? WRONG. He clearly can say “mime school” normally, he does it seconds before he says meme school. It’s the pause that gives it away. He pauses, clearly thinking about his next words carefully. He looks around, gives a knowing smile, and says the words “meme school”.  Which doesn’t make any sense.

Unless, of course, you believe (as I do) that Bowie was predicting the rise of memes. In which case this makes perfect sense. His smile reveals that he’s enjoying a little in-joke. He knows the audience won’t understand, but it’s just a little fun for him. Maybe he even knows that a decade and a half on people will uncover this clip and be like “oh my god, he saw all of this coming.”

Anyway, he definitely says meme school.

Don’t believe me? Well, here he is in an even earlier interview saying the phrase “meme companies”.

CASE CLOSED

Electronic shops I used to hang out in as a kid, ranked by their selection of computer games at the time

As a child, I spent a lot of my time here –

It’s the Queensgate Centre in central Harlow. A little off-road retail park near the station, with everything a family could need for a solid day of retail therapy. There was a Pizza Hut, a Burger King, a garden centre, clothes shops, and even a cinema.

Just look at that. Look how grey and depressing it is. Look at the angular 90s cars. Look at how all the stores were basically just warehouses with signs. But then look at the logo peeking in at the right there, a shining light of hope and attraction. A world of hope and dreams. A PC World.

There was something about an electronics superstore that really appealed to me. This was the 90s, and technology was still new and exciting. We had a Windows 95 PC at home, and I’d spent hours just messing around on Paint, playing Chip’s Challenge, or messing around with screensavers. So for a child like me, a whole ‘world’ of this stuff was just heaven.

It was a place where the promises of tomorrow were always on sale. The newest processors boasted about their incredible speeds. Rows of Soundblaster soundcards enticed you with the latest in crystal clear audio. And then there were the games.

I loved games. I still love games. Computer games are probably my favourite thing in life. Most of the games I played were borrowed from Bishop’s Stortford library, where I’d rent and re-rent LucasArts adventure game classics like Monkey Island and Full Throttle. As a child without a steady income, hanging out in the aisles of game shops was a transcendent experience – seeing everything I could ever want, but not being able to have any of it.

But it wasn’t just PC World. Here’s a full ranking of all those wonderful secret grottos that I spent weekends wandering through.

5. Tempo

Whatever happened to Tempo? They had the BEST jingle at the time – “Don’t sign on the dotted line until you talk to Tempo!”. I guess they couldn’t handle the competition from the other stores as they don’t exist anymore, and they didn’t offer an overwhelmingly impressive array of games. I’ve go have a look while my parents went to check out a fridge or something, but I’d often quickly run out. They did a lot of rubbish software too, 3D garden planners or budget trackers, that kind of useless stuff. I also recall the computer stuff being in some weird upstairs area too.

4. Comet

Is Comet still around? In my head it was always very similar to Currys – maybe they merged or something. In any case, they had a decent offering of games to check out, though I remember the aisles being quite narrow and dark. I bought a boxed copy of The Curse of Monkey Island here, and it’s one of my favourite games ever.

3. Currys

Completing the Holy Trinity of homogenous electronic stores, I can’t remember much about our Currys. Of the above three, this is the only one that still remains in the Harlow Queensgate Centre, so they must be doing something right. Average games-wise but pretty solid on the electronics front. I think they were one of the few ones that generally had a playable console available, which is a must for any decent games store.

2. Toys R Us

Not necessarily an electronics store, but it still did games very well. A large section of the shop was dedicated to games, and it was so beautifully presented. The games were all kept in brightly-lit white display cases, which you’d walk along and inspect. Instead of picking up any physical product, you’d simply retrieve a little slip for the game you wanted – a shopping experience almost gamified in itself. After checkout you’d proceed to a little separate desk, give the slip to the person, who’d disappear and return with a wonderful little gift that was all yours. I got so many games this way, and the slow, complex experience is deeply-rooted in my subconscious. Chucking £40 down on a game on Steam can’t replicate any of this. Give me a little yellow slip any day.

1. PC World

The undisputed master. Everything in-store was geared towards selling electronics and games. The gaming section was enormous and flowed across multiple aisles. And these were the latest and greatest in gaming. Games that you’d need a new computer to play. Games that would only play on Windows 98. Games that had more than 256 colours. 3D games.

You could probably buy every single game I saw then today for in total less than £20, but at the time it was some unattainable zenith of aspiration. I remember finally getting a double-pack of The Sims and its first expansion Livin’ It Up and it just making my whole year.

Honourable mentions:

  • WH Smith. Yes, WH Smith the stationers. For some reason, the one in Harlow town centre had loads of games (I think they still do in most places). And since there was always a reason to go into WH Smith I’d always manage to fit in a quick look-see. It was good mostly just to check out what new was out, rather than buying stuff. But still fun.
  • Office World. Now overtaken by the more popular Staples, but Office World carried a decent selection of games too. I remember us getting our Windows 98 PC from there,

I know this is a really specific form of nostalgia, and it’s pretty self-indulgent for me to write about it. But this genuinely was a staple of my childhood and it’s something I’ve lost as an adult. I can just get whatever I want now that I have money. My enormous Steam backlog is a realisation of that bright-eyed kid’s dream of owning every game ever. But I’ll miss those times when this was all out of reach. The best games always live in our imagination.