Seeing red

Advertising - Ross Diamond on the two faces of the BBC's new corporate identity

As advertisers fall over themselves to show links (however tenuous) between their products and the World Cup, the BBC is promoting its coverage of the event with Japanese-style anime featuring Gary Lineker and the rest of the presentation team as sharp-suited, long-shadowed emissaries of up-to-the-minute information.

As well as reflecting the high-tech, high-fashion image of the Far East, the short cartoons also reflect the current fascination for all things manga (as seen in the recent Gorillaz pop videos, the Pokemon craze, etc) in an appropriate appropriation of the host nations' cultures. The soundtrack features a remixed version of the Led Zeppelin classic "Kashmir", which, despite sounding perfect, is somewhat geographically astray, and - with the current geopolitical situation - may presage the only event likely to compete with the football festival for the world's attention. With a million armed men on the borders of Kashmir, international rivalry may start to carry darker connotations than mere footballing encounters during the next few weeks.

Despite this untimely choice of song, the cartoons successfully evoke the qualities of cool style and skilled execution at which the BBC is aiming. The literal translation of the word manga (meaning Japanese cartoons) is "corrupt pictures", but this sobriquet should perhaps be reserved for the contrastingly awful series of corporate identity films currently on the BBC.

It is difficult to put your finger on exactly why these idents are so cringe-inducing - but they reveal something of the BBC's current self-doubt, as they try to reflect a nation feared by the suits of Broadcasting House - with some justification - and which they do not really understand. Apparently, with 400 yards of red material left over from the Christmas schedules, a load of unemployed ex-Dome entertainers and a diversity quota to fill by next Tuesday, the Beeb came up with a camp collision of tokenism and condescension, featuring dancers of various disciplines dressed in the new BBC Red (well, if Labour no longer wants it . . .) performing life-affirming tableaux for our edification. Box-fresh tap-dancers in a pristine steel factory and circus artistes dangling from a ceiling on red silk sheets combine with footage of a clifftop Maori haka, rooftop Brazilian capoeira (is it a dance, is it a fight? - if you can't tell the difference, it's not a fight) and black, disabled sportsmen to produce a middle-class, focus-group vision of our "vibrant young nation" (c new Labour). It also manages to show events, activities and people that the BBC contrives to ignore for the remaining 23 hours and 59 minutes of every day. In a nation where jugglers (perhaps rightly) and buskers (perhaps wrongly) are vilified and hounded out of public spaces, there is something dishonest about Britain's foremost institution promoting these sanitised images of street dancers and circus performers as representatives of our culture.

When the BBC started using an image of the globe on red and yellow hot-air balloons in a previous branding exercise, Ariel, the BBC in-house magazine, ran a letter congratulating Auntie on this new iconography, saying how proud the short films made the correspondents feel. Unfortunately, nobody at Ariel noticed the names of the signatories, who on closer inspection turned out to be a group of comedy and satire producers. I hope we can all feel proud that our British institutions continue this fine tradition of self-satire, and that many of us, since being bombarded with these new idents, now feel a tinge of nostalgia when thinking of the balloon. The American punks the Dead Kennedys used to say: "If you liked Vietnam, you'll love Nicaragua" - to which we can now add the slightly less catchy: "If you liked the Dome, you'll love the new BBC corporate identity films."