The art of selling tea and crumpets

WHAT: âÄú2008 British Television Advertising AwardsâÄù WHEN: Dec. 5-30 WHERE: Walker Art Center. 1750 Hennepin Ave TICKETS: $10 ($8 Walker members). Paying to watch commercials isnâÄôt everyoneâÄôs idea of a sexy night out. But for 20 years the Walker Art Center has banked on the notion that people will do just that. The British Television Advertising Awards are an annual celebration of one of capitalismâÄôs most annoying trademarks: the commercial. But what makes these ads different is that they transcend the typical snooze-worthy ad experience. TheyâÄôre an equal mix of art and entertainment, drama and humor. The awards, strung together in four categories of achievement, ranging from the commendable Diploma Awards to the most distinguished Gold Awards , are a crash course in the past yearâÄôs most illuminating spots from across the pond. ItâÄôs like watching the Olympics of capitalist-fueled publicity, only everyone has a cutesy British accent. Some of the most successful advertisements at this yearâÄôs awards are for a British health and beauty company called Boots . These ads are overly dramatic depictions that reinforce many womenâÄôs deepest preoccupation: the idea that everyone is judging you, so you better look your best. In one ad, a woman enters a beyond-crowded beach, and, just before removing her covering to reveal a swimsuit, the world pauses âÄîwith hushed-breaths, no doubt âÄî to gander at her figure. She removes the covering with confidence, thanks to Boots. Her shape is sublime, and, because of Boots, she appears to distress no one. ThereâÄôs no doubt that some of the best commercials are of the comical variety. For Maltesers , a honeycomb and chocolate confectionary, two women lament that the candy no longer makes them feel naughty, because itâÄôs not as bad for them as they once thought. So, in the spirit of naughtiness, the pair stuff their bras with the round treat to suggest that the room is âĦ chilly. A male co-worker walks by, glances at their protruding parts and passes out, knocking down office minutiae in a domino-esque fashion. Naughtiness: achieved. Candies: publicized. (Adding further panache, the spot is simply titled âÄúNipples.âÄù) On the flip-side of the silly and outrageous is the jolting and serious. Several public service announcement-type ads stress the evils of guns and drugs. One spot features rapturous elderly folks who shoot up hardcore drugs. ItâÄôs an unsettling image. Another is a slow-motion study in bullets entering and exiting different objects, such as a watermelon and a bottle of ketchup. They explode with awesome beauty. Then the head of a young boy is transposed in the place of these objects, forcing the viewer to imagine the same force applied with a more gruesome effect. There are some flops, though. A couple of commercials feature British humor that feels a bit nonsensical, similar to the outdated English sitcoms on public television. And a few of the more mundane pieces at the beginning of the show are simple iterations of American ads. But the brilliant thing about commercials is their brevity, so anything lacking the necessary crackle doesnâÄôt last long. But how long do even the most effective commercials manage to pack punchy-ness? Their inherent repetitive nature tends to kill whatever effect they have on their first viewing. ThatâÄôs why commercials constantly change. No longer do Americans watch the Budweiser Frogs croak on lily pads, and the expression âÄúWhereâÄôs the beef?âÄù is now uttered only by hapless, irony-filled sorority girls, and not by the hilariously geriatric actresses of yore. Perhaps one of the best things about the British Advertising Awards is that the commercials are all novel to American audiences, none of them having lost their shiny inventiveness. To the uninitiated, they are still edgy.