Wednesday, 29 June 2011

In which I'm quite glad I'm not a Londoner

There’s always been a vague rivalry in Britain between people who live in our cities, and those who inhabit the green spaces outside them. City types see their rural counterparts as backward bumpkins who don’t know that there’s a minimum speed limit on the pavements; those in the country feel superior to the squeamish, superficial city dwellers who, when they visit, leave gates open so that the livestock can get out.

Living in a small market town somewhere between the two (although rather nearer the ‘rural’ end of things), I can see both sides of the argument. Yes, it would be lovely to live in a place filled with myriad new restaurants and cutting edge museums, but quite honestly, I like the fact that I can walk from one side of the place to the other in ten minutes and that everything’s shut on a Sunday.

It might be because I don’t live in London that an ad campaign currently running, supposedly extolling the virtues of the capital and those who live in it, hasn’t resonated with me at all. In fact, it makes me thoroughly glad I’m out in my little backwater with the clean air and ability to see stars at night.

If you’re also not living in the Smoke, or aren’t in the city very often, you’re probably not familiar with the current ads based around the line from the old wartime song Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner.

Maybe it’s because you’re a Londoner, the tube posters scream, that you’re like this, picking something about the city or the population about which its inhabitants are meant to be proud; things that should evoke a warm glow about them and the place in which they’re living.

But, bizarrely, the advertisers in their infinite wisdom seem not to have picked the best things about the place: the cultural opportunities; the architectural beauty; the historical richness. Not South Bank; the National Portrait Gallery; the incredible array of amazing restaurants; the acceptance that Londoners show to people from all over the world; the traditions and quirks – be they Changing the Guard or the good-natured ‘thoughts for the day’ that appear on the whiteboards at Angel tube station.

Instead, what’s been chosen are characteristics that, if we’re being generous about this, don’t wholeheartedly flatter. Because apparently, what makes people Londoners is the breathtaking egocentricity for which the rest of the country thinks they’re prats.

For clarity: there are plenty of Londoners of whom I’m thoroughly fond, none of whom can be characterised by the below, and I wouldn’t dream of tarring them as such. But dear me – who on EARTH thought these were a good idea…?

Maybe you carry a designer handbag with a price tag that could not only feed a family of five for six months but fit one in too cries one ad.

Maybe your idea of dressing down for the pub is loosening your tie and undoing your top button cries another.

Maybe you own hiking boots and a four-wheel drive vehicle, neither of which has ever seen so much as a muddy puddle.

I’m sure I’m meant to be impressed by the fashion-forward, suited and booted, cosmopolitan crowd that the ads are depicting. But frankly, I see the posters and they make me think of nothing other than superficial, uptight, greenery-shy idiots who have no idea that if you don’t know one end of a horsebox from the other, then you’ve no place in the driving seat of a Land Rover.

But maybe it’s because they’re Londoners and I’m not. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because they’re prats.


Kat B said...

Utterly rubbish. Those lovely inspiring messages also appear at Victoria and Clapham North (the latter goes more for quotes to cheer the day along)

James said...

I truly hate these ads. Pretentious and totally unclever. The new Economist ads around the Tube are far better, they're truly clever.

Caroline said...

Relatively speaking, I'm a country dweller, so I suppose it's hardly surprising that my reaction to these ads is *shudder*?

Redbookish said...

Spot on, Blonde! I'm a transplanted northerner, living in the second city (with apols to the Scots), so get the best of both worlds. Although the billboards with grainy pictures of my colleagues being heroic all over the Tube are a bit shocking when I'm in London, trying to hide from the office ...

I think you have to live outside London to realise how London-centric this country is, and what damage that does. Although the rest of us can be quite smug about what resources we have at our fingertips without the crippling mortgage ... I did laugh a few years ago, at Brian Sewell ranting about a major exhibition which showed in Loverpool & Newcastle, bypassing London completely. Poor man, I expect he thought that 'Here be dragons" when he arrived in the beautiful north-west!

@howard_jones said...

There are so many bad things to say about these adverts; it's great to see more and more people calling out the campaign for its incredible crassness.


I can't help but feel that you've pretty much backed the stereotype that they're depicting here, namely this: you're from London, or you're from the countryside.

What about all those cities in the UK that aren't London? Are they countryside? Are they not home to smart, cultured, talented, busy, rushing professionals contributing to our identity and adding value to our economy?

For transparency's sake, I'm from Nottingham but reside in London. When I left Notts a couple of years ago for a change of scene, I'm pretty sure I had a good job, wore a suit, walked fast, and didn't play on farms every weekend.

Blonde said...

Kat B: Y'see - THAT'S the way to make Londoners feel all warm and squishy. Nice things, not ads about how insufferably smug people can be.

James: Exactly. Couldn't have put it more succinctly myself.

Caroline: That'll make two of us, then!

Red: It's ridiculous, isn't it? I think the best thing I ever did for my awareness of how Londoncentric the media is, especially, was living in Edinburgh - Scotland is somehow viewed here as a largeish troublemaking county at the top. It's disgraceful.

@howard_jones: Indeed - as I said on Twitter, this is written from my POV of living in what most would call the countryside. But you're right - there are other - fabulous - cities in the UK where the exhibitions and culture and architecture and food (need I go on?!) are to be marvelled at, and we could all do with remembering that.

Brennig said...

Oh dear Lord. This campaign was presumably never market-tested. The absence of a greater sense of social awareness and the placing of financial cost over human value, coupled with the Grand Canyon-sized ignorance of Manchester, Cardiff or Bath (to name but three of the UK's cities which are, arguably, more pleasant places to live than London) paint this campaign with the badge of dishonour it so wonderfully deserves.

Gonuts McDie said...

Putting it even more bluntly, I agree that those ads are shite.

However, I'm left with the impression that you've slightly missed the point.

These ads are advertising an ad agency. They're telling their potential customers - brands - about why it's important to place themselves in front of people in London.

They're deliberately playing on these largely accurate perceptions about Londoners to add an extra helping of gravitas to their point about opinion leaders, managers and professionals.

So it can be translated roughly as "Londoners might well be prats, but plenty of them know a fair bit, and by the way, that stuff about chelsea tractors and handbags is our way of saying they've got disposable income."

So, crap as these ads are, their effect is more keenly felt by someone controlling a marketing department's budget than some lightweight piffle about how brilliant London is, with all its cultural diversity and historical significance.

Here's my blurb, so you know where I'm coming from: Born and raised in Kent; went to uni on outskirts of London; now live in London. But panic not, I have travelled further afield.

Redbookish said...

Point is, that it's not only Londoners who know about handbags or whatever. Here in Rummidge, we have rather spiffing shops, and one of he best collections of Pre-Raphs outside of Lloyd-Webber's jacuzzi room. And I know for a fact that I've read more books than 99% of Londoners, and I hail from a small city in the north-west (that's even nicer than Rummidge).

That's the ignorance of the London-centred policy/trend makers: that they assume that those of us living outside London are uncultured, dowdy, and poor.

Amy said...

I have nothing clever to add to the dislike of the ads; they are rubbish.

However, I'm very happy that I'm not the only one who noticed the Angel whiteboard. I used Angel station at the last job I did; the little messages made me smile every morning, and perked me up ready to work after the two-hour commute.

I live in the countryside and see a lot of farmers and horse owners driving mud-caked four-wheel drives all the time. However I live only a few miles from a fairly wealthy area, so see a lot of what I think would be dubbed "Yummy Mummies" driving Land Rovers because they have two kids and a dog, and thus "need one". I'm always slightly surprised at how cross they make me.

Lpeg said...

That's why I don't like living in a city. Particularly because that is how I feel New York is like. I don't picture that about London, but I've never spent significant time there. On the other hand, living in the heart of a small town, where you know the people you see on the street, your coffee barista knows your drink the second you walk in the door, and shops are closed on Sundays are why I love living where I do. Not to mention the fresh air!

nuttycow said...

Another reason for me not to come back to London! The list continues to grow.

Although, that said, I have to deal with a myriad of random racist Swiss posters instead.

Swings and roundabouts, innit?

(And no, I have no idea on the point of this comment either!)

HC said...

The sooner people start moving to Brum and pushing up property prices, the better.

looby said...

I think Gonads is putting his finger on the ads when he says "These ads are advertising an ad agency. They're telling their potential customers - brands - about why it's important to place themselves in front of people in London."

But in that case, why are they not in Pencil Skirt Monthly or whatever the "creatives" (ha ha!) read?

Surely the ads are a shot in the foot? It's going to be understood by the vast majority of people as either a) confirming their worst suspicions of Londoners as image-conscious, money-centred, vapid consumerist, and macho; or b) as an insult to the many Londoners who are nothing like that.

Redbookish said...

@HC Yes, please!

Blonde said...

Via email, Kirsten says:

Hi Blonde,

I can never comment on your blog, or indeed any Blogger blogs, which is a bit annoying.

"Maybe it's because you wouldn't look out of place on The Apprentice". I love the show but where do they get those idiots from?

Londoners have a tendency to look down on people "up north" too, by which I think they mean "north of London".

I've only been to London a few times, and one has to admit that London is a great city. I could happily spend a month there before it all got too much. I couldn't see myself living in a capital city.

I don't think those adverts are doing justice to real Londoners, you know, your born-and-bread ordinary folk. It is concentrating solely on one sector that fits the label "Yuppie" more than Londoner. You know, the kind of person who embodies that individualist mentality that might look impressive while you're young, but I'm in my mid-twenties now, and that just doesn't wash with me any more. I dare say most people living and working in London are struggling to make ends meet like everyone else. Not everyone is an investment banker.

In fact, Blonde, could it be that those ads were, in fact, some kind of Apprentice task set by Alan Sugar on behalf of the London tourist board? It really wouldn't be surprising.

The Architect said...

Saw these on our extended visit to London last week... the only other thing I'd add is that they also use the horrid (and ungrammatical) construct "outside of", which always gets my goat.

Which brings me to another benefit of living in Edinburgh - Scots language has the lovely word 'outwith' which neatly sidesteps the issue...

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