Destination: South Pole

Antarctica is synonymous with the South Pole. Even in this day and age when people live at Pole Station year round, 90 degrees south is a goal still associated with intrepid explorers. Once they wore burberry, today they wear North Face, but the challenge of pitting man against nature remains. The term “hero” still echoes across the white expanse.

Of course Antarctica is not just a place for black and white men in historic clothing. While heroes do feature in these adverts below, it’s what they show us about our imagined versions of Antarctica that are of particular interest…


Yes, yes, I know – those african penguins are more than a tad lost at the “South Pole,” and Dora’s monkey is breaking all kinds of regulations about the introduction of non-native species into the Antarctic, but the contrast between Dora and the rimy men reinforces stereotypes about the types of people who head south. Explorers are traditionally men with large beards and stoic expressions, not exuberant bi-lingual girls with pet monkeys.**

Such explorers star in the following advert for Prudential. No penguins here (magellanic or otherwise), but the narrative of Scott vs Amundsen comes to the fore. Why did Amundsen win the “Race to the Pole” and Scott never make it home? …

“Consistency” of course. Here the link between an Antarctic story and an investment company is dramatised, with the value of “consistency” highlighted as the way to success. This shows the way specific ideas that have been associated with Antarctica can be transferred to a particular brand or product – this has happened in many different ways over the years, with many different values at different points in time.

Exhibit C today brings us up to the modern time period, featuring a vehicle capable of supporting “science,” one of the key pillars of the Antarctic Treaty. This is the only advert filmed on location, and is more of a product endorsement clip than a slick snippet to slip in between series episodes. Many elements in the advert are reminiscent of earlier narratives, with terms such as “race” and “first” appearing as the hardy vehicles race across a “hostile” landscape. Not men this time, but vehicles, yet the sentiment remains the same – man versus nature, battling to be the first. No room for a chirpy Dora here…

This eclectic mix of TV adverts illustrates three of the ways Antarctica – and specifically, the South Pole – has been presented in recent times. It takes a long time to get there, you need to be consistent to arrive and get back home, and being first is still a big deal, even if the first is obscure.

*Thanks to Maggie Knuth for sending me this link.

**[Incidentally, Dora wasn’t the first children’s character to venture past the polar circle. Winnie the Pooh headed North, where he learnt from Christopher Robin all about the multiple Poles:

“There’s the South Pole, said Christopher Robin, and I expect there’s an East Pole and a West Pole, though people don’t like talking about them.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Just replace East Pole and West Pole with “South Magnetic” and “Pole of Inaccessibility” and the lesson about there being more than two poles still stands…]

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