Chumvertising: The Harder They Try, the Worse it Gets


There ought to be a word to describe advertisements and signs that are left forlornly on streets after an event, like lost shoes or drugs casualties who have forgotten their ways home. Event laggage, maybe. The guerilla Diesel ads left around Brewer Street in Soho after London Fashion Week are particularly grating examples – not only out of place and left for street cleaners to tidy up, but also some of the worst examples of sleeve-tugging chumvertising, ie chumvertising trying to be hip.

Chumvertising tries to make you like it by addressing you directly in the second person, frequently personifying the product as “I”. It uses childish adjectives, and ingratiates itself by referring to human foibles (“Never mind if you spill me down your front when you’re relaxing with a fab box set” etc etc). It evolved from Innocent’s faux-naivete as a way of circumeventing the over-familiar cliches of advertising, and gained ground in the recession because in recessions, consumers are susceptible to products promising comfort.

That’s bad enough, but chumvertising that wants to be hip is worse. This kind of ad thinks it’s being clever by acknowledging that it’s an ad, and believes it will gain your respect with its humble self-knowingness. Diesel, who have been desperately trying to recapture the glories of their early 1990s campaigns for 20 years now, have really overdone it here, and nicely demonstrated how the approach goes wrong.

While it can work to acknowledge your own mechanism, it’s a mistake to assume you’ve succeeded in making the audience like you. If you do that, your ad just reads like a brief. “This ad communicates with you like someone at a party would, like someone at a party would, like someone who knows you know how these things work.” This is annoying chiefly because whoever made the ad didn’t think of the obvious, ie  “someone at a party” would not be trying to sell you stuff, and if they were, their conversation would seem insincere.

But it’s also annoying because it’s missing a layer of self-knowingness. Everyone KNOWS this approach now, it’s as old as Diesel itself. Nowadays to make it work you need absurdist irony, that Becketian tone that makes a point of its pointlessness, like a “Band name here” t shirt. The one below is slightly better, but still – no.