Did we like it?
It was great on two counts. Firstly, it exposed how amoral clothes firms exploit the inherently susceptible minds of children to peddle their extortionately-priced garments. And secondly, it broke a cardinal rule of TV – do not make children unhappy through a cruel deception.
What was good about it?
• Presenter Rachel Morrison’s crusade to illuminate the murky, impenetrable world of advertising and the unscrupulous methods they use to coerce kids into purchasing their goods simply for the branding, and thus help ensure lifetime loyalty.
• As ten-year-olds Amy and Beth stomped around a clothes store, one of them scorned a jacket for simply being “furry”. The camera then panned down to her grotesquely furry boots.
• When Rachel and Karen Gough went to consult an advertising agency about fabricating the ‘So’ brand to dupe her kids, one of the team meeting her disclosed the advertising mantra of “communicate certain values at a certain price level”, which translates as associating the product with a barrel load of irrelevant, illusory window-dressing and then make it a rip-off.
• It was revealed that the Gough kids love of clothes comes from their mother, Karen. Her wardrobe stretched from her bedroom into the cupboards of her children, who gleefully exposed their mother’s true fashion-obsessed nature.
• The intricate ruse of the made up ‘So’ brand that gestated from Rachel’s desire to show just how easy it was to deceive children into thinking clothes were ‘cool’ just because of the brand, with the actual quality of the garment of distant and peripheral importance.
• The ‘So’ campaign began by putting up posters around the school, then Dick and Dom were shown wearing ‘So’ t-shirts, and then a fashion show with the models (the ‘coolest’ kids in the school) wearing ‘So’-branded t-shirts and jeans. Most of the school were duped, and sounded quite annoyed when Dick and Dom let them in on the joke. But it was useful to show how children, and we were no brighter when we were in short trousers, can be manipulated by advertisers into buying their products for utterly senseless reasons.
• ‘So’ was also an appropriate name for a fabricated fashion brand as ‘so’ is the figurehead of ‘friendspk’, that most loathsome argot virulently propagated about the globe by six moronic characters in a sitcom.
• The clothes produced by fashion students at the University of the West of England were, even to our uneducated, unappreciative eyes, far superior to anything the Gough kids bought from a shop.
What was bad about it?
• ‘One of the Gough triplets was apparently a Manchester United supporter, but had an England top with Steven Gerrard’s name on the back. While club loyalty is largely forgotten when England play, occasional vestiges of tribalism must remain such as a vague appreciation of players from your most hated rivals. Or perhaps she is, at just 10, simply a damn sight more mature than we are.
• Rachel Morrison’s assertion that the Gough triplets “instinctively know that looking good on the outside makes you feel good on the inside”. After her insight into dispelling the illusion of branding, it was a shock when Rachel expounded this advertising hogwash. Such a notion isn’t at all “instinctive”, but merely another coating of superficial advertising persuasion.
• The use of Depeche Mode’s I Just Can’t Get Enough. When the Basildon band’s epitaph is written, this mindless, throwaway pap will appear in all the auditory obituaries despite being their second worst single (See You is the worst). Classics such as Never Let Me Down, Personal Jesus and Everything Counts (that would also have been a more appropriate anthem for blindly materialistic children) would be consigned to oblivion.
• The waste of time explaining that children’s views and opinions are easily shifted by peer pressure. Everyone watching had probably experienced such problems growing up and there was no need to go into any detail on the subject.
• Rachel’s efforts to appear “down with the kids”. She described Avril Lavigne as “punk rock” rather than as a “corporate puppet wrought with all the contrivance of the Backstreet Boys for children who think they are too clever to be hoodwinked by boyband rubbish” and urged one of the schoolboy models at the fashion show to “give it a bit” like your granny jacking to NWA. Although she was wrongly chastised by young Joe, who corrected her when Rachel termed 50 Cent and G-Unit as “hip hop”. “It’s not hip hop, it’s rap,” the ten-year-old claimed, oblivious to the idea of synonyms.
• To anyone not from the south west of England, a Blue Iris coach (that appeared in the show) will mean little. But for those who used to travel in them whenever the school wanted to transport large battalions of kids from point A to point B, they are a source of harrowing Proustian horrors. When the Blue Iris coach was driving along the road, we didn’t see a rather garishly coloured bus ferrying children to school, all our senses were instead assailed by the stench of wet hair from Monday’s swimming lesson, the nausea of the air-conditioning on the long journey to France, the threadbare, scalped cat-hair feel of the back of the seats, the mocking, whining, breaking voices singing a crude ode about you, and the sight of the coach turning into the jaws of Hell, that could be reached through your school gates.