Machine Dreams

Please tell me it’s just an electronic glitch, a quirk of the ear canal, anything that’s scientific and not emotive. . . .

You see, I have a problem with Brian, the star of’s current television adverts. (Apologies, American readers, you probably don’t know what the heck I’m on about. Find out more about him at You can even follow him on twitter.)

What’s my problem? Brian makes me weep. And they’re not tears of frustration because I find him annoying — though believe me, that’s my argument with most adverts, thanks to their sexist reinforcement of old-school gender expectations, their insults to my intelligence, and their tedious predictability. Curiously, I don’t need what Brian’s selling, but he caught my attention because I accidentally misheard, and thought he said “Balls!” after being rebuffed by baffled strangers. Childish, I know. Whatever it is he does say, his tremolo voice distorts when it hits my ears and I’m often very confused-dot-com myself when the adverts end.

Meanwhile the campaign’s moved on. The people Brian accosts are now happier to engage and some greet him by name as he purrs around on his little wheels trying to convince us that his website will save us money on car insurance.

Here’s the thing. When you visit that website or hunt Brian on Google Images, he’s quite shiny and white, with a rather sweet wee face. (His creators clearly studied the Cute Overload / Disney rule about oversized eyes.)

But whenever I see these ads Brian appears grubby and knocked about. This defies logic. The picture at the top is from one of those adverts. Not a blemish on him. Am I sitting too far away? Is my television so dirty and ancient that it’s giving everything a greige cast? Are my eyes going? (My money’s on answers two and three.)

That’s the context, that my mind insists on seeing Brian as a bit raddled. Add in the timbre of his peculiar vibrato and, well, I don’t know what comes over me. In under a minute I am verging on tears. When I examined this phenomenon the other day by merely thinking about Brian’s voice, hearing it in my head singing, “Confused dot com,” I welled up and had to pull myself together, as I was meeting friends.

Why is this happening? (When will this ad campaign end?)

I came up with two utterly rubbish theories, the first that Brian was the name of my best friend, who died in 1996. It could be a trigger word. Yeah, right. I have encountered numerous Brians since then without a hint of emotional turbulence whatsoever. The second theory involves Mr Machine. I received one as a gift for my second birthday and possess photos testifying to my unbridled glee. Maybe I have a secret robot fetish waiting to be explored (see column link below). Who knows what happened to that toy, but the fact of the matter is he resembles Brian the Robot not at all. And before you get clever, Brian the Robot looks nothing like my late, great bestie, either.

I am praying for a scientist to come along with a hyper-rational explanation involving sound waves and the technology utilised to create Brian the Robot’s voice. I would like this explained away in a manner that makes me feel less like a member of the Raving Loony Party and more like a woman being manipulated by the nefarious trickery of a global brand. Just this once.

Until then, I’m hitting the mute button and shielding my eyes. There’s enough to cry about, without a robot winding me up!

Links with spurious tangential relevance: 

In 2002, I wrote about losing my best friend Brian:

And here’s a silly column about robots that makes me laugh even though I did write it myself:

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