The other night I watched a TV programme about The World’s Favourite Ads.

As usual, it was some ads from the 1980s, the ones everyone remembered.

As usual, they got advertising people to talk about the ads and, as usual, they padded it  out with some unfunny ‘comedians’ mocking the ads.

No problem with that, if the mocking was funny or inciteful, but it wasn’t.

Presumably the producers didn’t think the subject, advertising, was interesting enough, so they needed someone to poke fun at it.

The problem with this is: 1) it wasn’t funny, and 2) we didn’t learn anything.

For instance, I watched them mock the famous J R Hartley – Yellow Pages ad that David Abbott wrote.

Open on an elderly man going from bookshop to bookshop.

Each time he asks if they’ve got the book ‘Flyfishing by J R Hartley’, he explains it’s very old and probably out of print.

Each bookshop tells him no they don’t have it.

He goes home dejected, his daughter suggests instead of trudging round bookshops he should look in the Yellow Pages, then ring to see if they’ve got it.

The VO says: “Good old Yellow Pages, we’re not just there for the nasty things in life, like a blocked drain or a broken window.”

Eventually he finds one that has it, rings up and asks them to put it by for him.

They ask his name and he says “J R Hartley.”

(Obviously, he wrote the book himself many years ago.)

Now, without having a clue about what that advertising was trying to do: the context, the audience, the time it was done, the comedians start to mock it.

They say it makes Yellow Pages seem really sad and miserable.

They say why hasn’t he got lots of copies of the book seeing he’s the author?

They say who goes into second-hand bookstores anyway?

They say his daughter shouldn’t let him out on his own.

None of what they say is funny and there’s no possibility of learning anything.

To learn something, we must consider when the ad was done, and why.

This ad was one of a series that ran in the 1980s.

Yellow Pages was a large book full of listings for all sorts of businesses.

Every house in the country had a copy, and it was updated every year.

Businesses had to pay to be included, they’d buy a big ad or a small one in their section.

If you needed a plumber, a glazier, an electrician, a builder, anything like that, the Yellow Pages was the place you looked.

But the comedians weren’t interested in any of that.

It didn’t occur to them that this product existed in a world BEFORE THE INTERNET.

You couldn’t just go online and look things up.

That’s why the commercial was about using Yellow Pages and your phone, to browse for what you wanted IN A WORLD BEFORE THE INTERNET.

The line: “Good old Yellow Pages: we’re not just there for the nasty things in life” was about shifting people from using Yellow Pages just for distress purchases, into shopping without leaving home.

The ad was predicting Google years before it even existed.

The ad was predicting Amazon years before it even existed.

The ad was predicting SEO years before it even existed.

All of which makes it a prescient campaign if they’d cared to think about it.

But these people couldn’t think beyond the world they knew.

Their ignorance made them terminally smug.

It reminded me of an interview I read awhile back with the last of the Battle of Britain pilots.

He was about 102 years old and talking to a young reporter who had been sent to interview him.

The pilot mentioned that although the Spitfire had eight machine guns, it only had 20-seconds of ammunition.

They young reporter said “How did you know when you were running out of ammunition, did the onboard computer tell you?”

That’s the Dunning-Kruger effect, when you’re too stupid to know what you don’t know, so you assume you know.