They do mention the war. And I don’t think they get away with it.

The latest campaign from brewer Shepherd Neame for Spitfire Beer continues the well-worked Second World War theme. There is, however, now a topical twist. A relatively low-key sporting competition – which I believe the Americans describe as “The Soccer World Cup” – is about to get under way in Germany. To the creative teams on the Spitfire account, this is the equivalent of der Geburtstag and das Weinachten arriving at the same time.

At a purely technical level, the ads are of varying quality. They range from the subtle and moderately amusing (“Best of luck chaps – see you in Berlin) to the downright laboured (“England’s reserve team”, with a picture of Home Guard members on parade). I think, however, we’ve got past the point at which individual executions can redeem the overall campaign. There’s a tiresome familiarity to it all now and a definite feeling that the creative factory is churning stuff out faster than a wartime parachute factory.

Is it all a bit of harmless fun? Up until now, the answer was probably yes. But context is everything. The British Advertising Standards Authority frequently rules, for instance, that a provocative or explicit ad is ok in certain media – such as men’s magazines, for example – but cannot be used as a poster in Piccadilly Circus, for fear of upsetting passing infants, grannies and others of a nervous disposition. Here, we have ads that might be alright at another time, but look decidedly dodgy at a point when thousands of England fans are going to be descending on Munich and Berlin. Not all of these boys are known for their sophistication and sense of post-modern irony. And while I doubt that the Spitfire ads are going to provoke a re-run of D-Day on the terraces at Gelsenkirchen, they are not exactly the kind of thing designed to ensure cordial relations either.

I could write lots of pompous waffle about advertising creatives having a sense of social responsibility, but I’m not sure that it would cut too much ice with those who conceived the ads. So I’ll just make this point to them: if you’re going to stir things up in advance of the World Cup with references to World War II, you better make sure that your stuff is genuinely funny. And that you’re not melting old saucepans to create your latest Spitfire gag.

© Phil Woodford, 2006. All rights reserved.

Phil Woodford is a freelance writer and trainer. He works as an associate lecturer at the University of the Arts London.