Shell: Poster Man (1960)
In this animated advertisement for Shell Motor Oil, a cartoon ‘poster man’ comically attempts to secure a Shell poster on the side of a building.
This advertisement was made to screen only in cinemas prior to a feature film program despite being made after the introduction of television.
An animated ‘poster man’ arrives at the front of a building on his bicycle – glue tin, paintbrush, ladder and posters in hand – to erect a poster on its facing wall. In a series of clumsy mishaps, the man gets himself entangled as he puts up each quarter of the poster. After spilling his glue, wearing the paintbrush on his head, and impossibly rotating his ladder and bicycle 360 degrees, the poster man completes his task.
This scene is then revealed to be a mobile set piece which is pushed off stage, revealing a theatre where an audience can be heard applauding to his vaudeville act. As the curtain comes down, the Shell logo and X-100 Motor Oil banner fills the screen, again breaking the illusion of animated reality.
Summary by Poppy De Souza
This clever advertisement is of interest for a number of reasons. Made in 1960 after the introduction of television, this advertisement was nevertheless made to screen in cinemas prior to a feature film program. The self-referential quality of the advertisement, along with its comic music, would have given audiences some fun when they recognised that the scene in front of them is revealed to be a staged theatre scene. The off-screen audience within the ad laughs as the real audience watching the ad laughs at its cleverness. This trick covers up the fact that there is nothing in the ad which has anything to do with the qualities or benefits of using Shell Motor Oil! Unlike advertisements from the earlier days of advertising where advertisements marketed their product on quality and usefulness, Shell cleverly recognised that to sell or create awareness for a product you didn’t have to directly refer to its merits.
Notes by Poppy De Souza