Everything Wrong with That Terrible 'Back to Work' Advert

I don't know about you, but I miss BCC-ing so much.
Nana Baah
London, GB
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
September 3, 2020, 11:45am
Left: Elena Elisseeva / Alamy Stock Photo. Right: @helloalegria

Dettol – that beloved barometer of the national mood – wants us to get back to the office, chaps. That’s right: the dilly-dallying, otherwise known as “doing your best to protect yourself and others while there’s still very much a pandemic on”, is over.

What’s everyone so worried about anyway? The ease with which you might contract a deadly virus surrounded by hundreds of people in an open-plan office? Hah! Listen, if you’re concerned about that, please don’t be. A disinfectant brand is telling you it’s fine!

In an ad on the London Underground – photos of which have emerged on social media this morning – Dettol extols the virtues of what it apparently believes to be the enjoyable realities of work, in an apparent attempt to get people nostalgic for office life.

There are lots of problems with the advert: for one, it assumes a homogenous office-dwelling audience, when loads of people have been at their places of work throughout the pandemic. For two, it is simply very cringe (there’s another one about how great commuting is as well, if you’d really like your stomach turned).

Probably the worst thing about this ad, though, is that Dettol’s idea of work is a bizarre version of smug 1990s office culture, which feels completely alien to anyone who actually works in an office in 2020. The bits of office life it picks out are either deeply weird – has anyone ever woken up and felt excited to put a bunch of lads on BCC? – or massively outdated (the last time anyone actually referenced “watercooler moments” must have been whenever the last Sex and the City episode aired).

The combination produces what might be one of the most uniquely strange blocks of prose ever committed to a billboard, and achieves the inverse of what it sets out to do, in that instead of getting me misty-eyed about chugging machine coffees every morning just to feel something, it makes me furious about the ways in which work is romanticised and the experiences of the most privileged are consistently centred in a neoliberal society such as our own.


Here’s what the majority of us actually think about all the stuff listed on that billboard.

Hearing an alarm

The only time hearing an alarm is nice is if you have to get up at 4AM to go to the airport, to eat a fry up and then go on holiday. All other times, it is a hellish thing for a person to experience, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Putting on a tie

The only cool way to wear a tie is to make it really tiny, like everyone did in school, so unless you work in an office where that’s allowed, I will be passing.

Carrying a handbag

I, for one, have been carrying my belongings in my fists since the office shut down, and have not missed “handbags” one bit.


The fact that receptionists are referred to as part of the office furniture, rather than humans who might have their own misgivings about returning to a busy workplace, demonstrates why this entire thing is so rancid.

Caffeine-filled air


Taking a lift

Lifts! Famously exclusive only to office buildings and no other buildings!

Seeing your second family

As much as I like my colleagues, I think if I started calling them my “second family” they would stop inviting me to things.

Watercooler conversations

A story: the watercooler closest to me in the VICE office is nightmarishly slow; it dribbles out water at the same speed as actual spit dribble, from the mouth. So the only conversations I ever have at it usually consist of me trying to fill up my bottle and apologising to the person behind me because it’s taking so long. Then they go: “Don’t worry it’s slow, that one,” and I go, “Yeah, it’s a fucking nightmare.” Usually I don’t even get enough water for a full bottle because I feel too bad about making everyone else wait.

Proper bants

How dare you.

The boss’s jokes

Risking getting a deadly virus to hear a middle-aged man tell jokes. Grow up and watch reruns of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow.

Plastic plants

When I think about offices, the thing I miss most is definitely the constant reminder that it is so difficult for natural life to thrive inside them that we have to mimic it instead.

Office gossip

Surely just get some friends?

Those weird carpets


Face-to-face meetings

Everyone knows that most meetings are pointless. They could all be emails and should have been outlawed pre-pandemic.

Not having to make lunch

Even if I got paid enough to eat Pret every day, the act of examining the “Avo, Olives and Toms” baguettes each lunchtime, and selecting the one that contains marginally the most sundried tomato, is hardly my idea of living.


It’s horrible to see Dettol running out of ideas in real time, isn’t it?


Suddenly really concerned that I’m not doing my job right because I’ve never had to BCC someone on an email.

Accidentally replying-all

A mistake you can also make… from home!

Hearing buzzwords

Really interesting analysis of the office worker’s psyche here. Imagine thinking anyone longs to hear the guy who wanders around the office, dramatically circling words on whiteboards and yelling into a bluetooth headset, whisper “synergy” into their ear.

Leaving early for a cheeky afternoon in the sun

This would be nice if the one patch of grass near my office didn’t get ground into muck every summer because it’s the only piece of public space available to the many workers in the area. Also, I don’t know if Dettol have ever had a job, but the point of one tends to be that you must be there for a set number of hours, for a set number of days in the week! And it’s like that until you die!