I, like most people, am not immune to a charity ad campaign – it doesn’t take much to move me. Usually, the BBC can be counted on to deliver the goods in this respect. If you cast your mind back to 1997 and its Perfect Day effort for Children in Need, the Beeb’s genius is apparent.
It managed to take a rag-tag collection of rock stars (most of whom are not exactly known for their clean-living) and had them fashion a genuinely decent musical moment. The campaign was only made better by the fact that the money made was all for a good cause.
So, why did this year’s effort leave me feeling downright uncharitable? The rendition of God Only Knows is both musical and advertising butchery. Not only is it a pale imitation of 1997’s campaign, it takes a breezily masterful Beach Boys song and reduces it to the level of a bad primary school choir performance.
The 1997 ad had Lou Reed and this has One Direction – the decline in talent is painful to behold. The last thing I need to hear is the ridiculously be-quiffed boyband over emoting on what was a Sixties classic, or Florence Welsh doing her tired Pre-Raphaelite shtick in a staged forest. However, honourable mention has to go to Chrissie Hynde and Brian May for at least trying to inject some rockstar nonchalance.
On top of that I simply don’t like the aesthetic of the video this time round. The 1997 version had its own kind of lo-fi charm that looked humble and relatable. In contrast, this year’s offering looks like it cost a lot of money (some sources have it pegged at several million, though this is not confirmed). I wonder if the money would have been better spent elsewhere rather on this soul-less dirge.
The BBC will no doubt be hoping God Only Knows can replicate the success of its predecessor. Perfect Day was released as a single, reaching No 1 in the UK, and raised more than £2m for Children in Need. It was so successful in fact, that the BBC tried to do it again in 2000, when Lou Reed led a second performance of Perfect Day with a new cast across as part of the BBC Music Live event. Sadly, lightning did not strike twice, as when released as a single, that version reached only No 69.
For Children in Need’s sake, I hope that God Only Knows can outperform Perfect Day’s second effort and raise some much-needed funds for the charity. I will be donating despite the campaign, rather than because of it.
Mike Cavers is executive creative director at DST Global Insight Group (The GIG at DST)