By Lee Gale, Editor, British Ideas Corporation
Last week, an advert appeared on the Tube for overly algorithmic dating website Match.com that featured the close-up face of a not-unattractive woman with a riot of freckles. With Minstrel-brown eyes, she peered over the tagline: “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will.” I’m never usually quick on the uptake with this sort of thing but as I strode along the near-empty platform of South Wimbledon, I thought, “Are freckles defects or merely sunshine-activated pigmentations of the skin?”
On the train and believing I was onto something, I wrote a few words in my much-travelled notepad before grabbing a Metro from the 17,000 tattered copies that were flapping about the carriage. It was while searching for the football news that I happened upon a full-page story about the errant Match.com advert and the utter disgust it had caused my fellow fare-paying passengers. As I say, I’m usually the last to make these sorts of connections and here was the evidence. To be fair, Match.com seemed to be holding its hands up to its faux pas and mentioned that it would be removing the mildly offensive advert forthwith. You have to assume that taking down ads on London Underground stations isn’t cheap. It was a failure at every level.
The redheaded lady in the advert with her straight, girly fringe has what can only be described as hyper-freckles and, as such, resembles a negative image of the universe as taken from the Hubble telescope. Obviously Josh and Noah in the ad agency’s art department had ran amok with the colour-saturation tool on their Macs. As I trundled inexorably north, I wondered if the advert would have worked better if the woman had been suffering from chronic acne but then again, aren’t spots natural features of human skin too? And you know, if she had a black eye, maybe she was just one of those people who enjoyed the occasional brawl on a Friday night. It depends how far you want to go.
For most men, freckles used to be a complete hindrance to your love life. There was no way you could expect a girlfriend if you were the doppelganger of the Milky Bar Kid or Tristram Fourmile from George And Mildred. That isn’t the case any more, for which we have Ed Sheeran to thank. Sheeran initially sprung to fame as Errol the Hamster in the Roland Rat TV series – a lot of people forget this – but more recently, he’s cracked the international pop circuit and pulled some of the world’s foremost dolly birds by teaming the gait of a tired rodent with freckles and the attire of a Cornish tin-miner in the 1870s.
In the Eighties, freckles for a male teenager were regarded as a British Summer Time outbreak of smallpox. Not surprisingly, your chances of scoring while gripped by this ailment were reduced by as much as 95 per cent (Gallup, 1988). Add a couple of spots to the mix and it was almost pointless getting out of bed at 11am. In many ways, freckles were worse than acne because there was no chance they’d clear up with a dab of Oxy 10. They weren’t just an imperfection but a solar scourge, a curse wrought by nature, exacerbated by ageing family members believing that freckles were cute in a sort of 19th-century Lord Fauntleroy way. Then again, in the past, at least if we fancied someone, we’d have the guts to approach them and gush out our feelings face-to-face, and not hide behind a computer screen.
The Match.com advert might have looked like a harsh warning about the excesses of prolonged sunbed use but there have been far more insensitive adverts on the Underground in recent months that have escaped passenger ire. Near the top of the list is specialist-bank Investec’s “Do you find impatience a virtue?”, featuring Dupsy Abiola, founder and CEO of “professional hiring platform” Intern Avenue. Impatience on packed platforms is one of the greatest dangers to the habitual Tube user, with pushing, shoving, and all that carry on, a constant worry as you edge towards your destination. Ride an escalator to the subterranean depths of the Underground and you’ll see scores of Transport For London safety adverts calling for passengers’ patience. Who lets adverts by the likes of Investec through? Where’s the quality control? What is a specialist bank? And why do we call work placements “interns” nowadays??
Investec adverts are merely a symptom of the selfish Sir Alan Sugar times we live in. Me and the kids change trains at Moorgate many times times during the week and with the sheer amount of people using the Northern Line, we often sit it out and wait for the crowds to pass – y’know, being patient, while gazing up at Dupsy and her showboating haste. Thankfully, Dupsy’s gone now; I think she’s been replaced by a couple of sentences from a broadband provider.
Hellish as that image was, I was made even more livid by ANOTHER Investec advert a few feet away, bearing the slogan: “Do you start where others finish?” Do you ever get a primeval loathing of someone simply because of their face? In the advert, Rob Martineau, another everybusinessperson from the Investec series, sits stoically at the edge of his desk, gazing majestically beyond the photographer’s lens like he’s the financial equivalent of Alexander the Great. In his suit jacket and trousers, his top-end knitted T-shirt (no tie!) and his daft, immaculately folded, colour co-ordinated shiny hanky in his pocket, Rob Martineau is pure 2016 man, so multinational and humourless that he wouldn’t understand a joke even if it was told in Esperanto.
I said to my eight-year-old son, “Don’t tell your mother this, but you see that man on that picture there, the one on the advert, Rob Martineau? I’d love to kick his stupid head in.” My eight-year-old was delighted by this frank admittance and, laughing like a Carry On film character, turned to tell his older brother who, as usual, was fully immersed in a Pokemon battle on his Nintendo and could accept no further information. I’m not proud of that moment; I just needed to say it out loud on the platform to clear my head.
When you’re faced with people like Rob Martineau, living calculators who monetise everything, who seem so permanently incensed that they’d get agitated if a pillow was out of place in a hotel room, you start to think that regaining a few teenage freckles might not be so bad after all. At least you could shout “The Milky Bars are on me!”, which is something we won’t be hearing from Investec business leviathans Rob Martineau and Dupsy Abiola anytime soon.