In his recent guest spot on the Stateside Madness Podcast, Chris Foreman mentioned how he has profited as co-writer of “Our House,” a staple of the advertising circuit. “I do quite well out of sync licenses, you know,” he said with a laugh. “People want to use it. So yeah, it’s done me well!” The past year has seen the tune become a pandemic anthem in a lovely Miracle-Gro ad as well as spots for midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee and UK retailer Very.
And now it’s Allstate putting more U.S. dollars in Chrissy Boy’s pocket, thanks to their new “Our House” ad that steps beyond the coronavirus era. Contrary to the whole home-lockdown angle, this one proposes taking your castle and your keep with you on the go, in a manner of speaking.
The whimsical ad features comedic actress Erin Alexis hauling a whole house (albeit of the tiny variety) down the road hitched to her modest mom-mobile, over the familiar strains of “Our House.” The dulcet baritone of Allstate pitchman Dennis Haysbert implores viewers to bundle their home insurance with their auto policy to save a bundle. “You already pay for car insurance. Why not take your home along for the ride?”
It’s nowhere near as magical as the Miracle-Gro commercial, but it’s a good ad. There are two interesting things to note about the sociocultural mechanics that make it work.
First, it’s not until halfway through the ad that the song lyrics kick in. I think most “Our House” ads jump into a chorus or verse straightaway, but this one demonstrates patience. Likewise, we don’t see the whole visual gag at first, just tight shots of the house’s rumbling interior, a window box planter and curtains in the breeze, set to the instrumental overture. This shows that Allstate was confident enough that most people in their target demo would recognize the song and get the joke even before hearing Suggs and Carl. Just like when we hear the distinct bassline and cha-chings of Pink Floyd’s “Money,” we know an ad’s going to be about finances, and “We Are Family” telegraphs blood relations even without the Sister Sledge vocals, the “Our House” melody alone is enough to make us anticipate a commercial about home.
The other noteworthy thing about the ad is how it hinges on a common American misinterpretation of the chorus. “Our house, in the middle of our street.” This phrasing strikes U.S. listeners oddly, evoking nonsense images of a house erected right in the road itself, blocking traffic on both sides and violating of all sorts of zoning ordinances.
Even as a 13-year-old kid, I managed to figure out this meant the house was situated centrally along the length of the street, rather than across its width. Go halfway down our street, turn left at our house. Ten years ago, the blog Separated by a Common Language offered a thorough analysis of the British English idioms in “Our House,” wherein author Lynne “Lynneguist” Murphy astutely notes the following:
To my young American ears, this sounded intentionally funny. The house is in the middle of the street! Like where the manholes should be! No, no, no. This is the British English equivalent of in American English in the middle of our block. … But even if it weren’t in the middle of the street, ‘our house’ would still be in our street, because in British English addresses can be in the street or road.
Indeed, let us not forget that the earthquake was erupting but not in Orange Street. If Lee Thompson had an American editor, it would have been not erupting on Orange Street. And then we have Suggs’s new composition “In My Street,” which puts the Yank-baffling choice of preposition front and centre. Although it is interesting that Suggs also wrote of passing Amy Winehouse on Dean Street, rather than “in Dean Street”… perhaps because the scene of a personal encounter is different from a fixed address?
As a side note, the “Our House” lyric that always tripped me up most was “the kids are playing up downstairs.” I recall one of my friends postulating that the children were on a lower floor above the sub-basement. Murphy’s blog post helpfully explains that “playing up” means “behaving irritatingly or erratically,” which we might express as kids “acting up” or “cutting up” downstairs.
But back to the Allstate ad. Even if it it requires being thickheaded to think the house in “Our House” was literally in the road, where the lines are painted, and where the chicken crosses, that peculiar pinch of British flavour is inherent to our experience of the song in America. So much so that an ad agency selling the benefits of combining car and home insurance was able to find a nostalgic pop hit that expresses this specific concept to us. And Allstate was confident enough to let the music speak for itself, free of exposition by way of lyrics or President David Palmer, for the exorbitantly expensive duration of 15 seconds. It’s pretty cool that Madness still occupies its minuscule niche of American pop culture enough to pull that off. “Our House” is in good hands with Allstate.
And honestly, it makes for a better insurance ad than “Driving in My Car” or “Mrs Hutchinson” ever could.