J R Hartley Reimagined

Dabbling in nostalgia can be a risky advertising strategy, as this new spot for Yell from Rapier proves…

Dabbling in nostalgia can be a risky advertising strategy, as this new spot for Yell from Rapier proves…

The ad aims to update the Yellow Pages J R Hartley ad, which first aired in 1983, for the modern era. For those of a certain age, this classic ad (shown below) will be fondly remembered: it starred an elderly gentleman (actor Norman Lumsden) seeking out a book on fly fishing from a number of second-hand bookshops. After he returns home empty-handed, his daughter suggests searching via the Yellow Pages. He finds the book, and the final scene then reveals that it is in fact written by him. The spot struck a chord with popular culture and was spoofed in a number of sketches in the 80s by comedians including Harry Enfield and Fry & Laurie.

When it came to advertising Yell.com, Rapier has decided to reinvent the J R Hartley spot, this time with a retired DJ searching for an old trance track he’d made. The narrative follows the same line as the earlier ad, with the ageing raver searching second-hand record stores before returning home to then be guided to a Yell app by his daughter, where he finds a store that stocks it.

The strategy here seems simple: remind the audience how much they loved the earlier ad, and in turn how helpful Yell.com – or Yell’s app – still is. And on the plus side, the ad is very nicely shot (by Chris Palmer) with good performances from the characters, and the staff in the real-life record stores, who play themselves. Yet, despite these merits, the new ad falls flat: largely because it studiously ignores the modern world it is supposed to be reflecting. Its Hartley figure – who is awkwardly named Day V Lately – looks to be in his 40s. If he wanted to find the record, surely he’d know to just Google it? By pretending that Google and other search engines, never mind eBay, don’t exist, and that a middle-aged man would need his teenage daughter to direct him online just feels uncomfortable and hammy.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this kind of self-referential advertising also relies on its audience being in on the joke. Will the J R Hartley reference really mean anything to those under 35, unless they work in advertising?

Agency: Rapier
Executive creative director: Ed Morris
Production company: Gorgeous Enterprises
Director: Chris Palmer




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