past year. Amanda Nicholls looks at how retro commercials are giving modern brands a boost
The popularity of television commercials was cemented in 2004 with the launch of a channel entirely dedicated to past and present adverts, where viewers can watch their favourite commercials without interruption from programmes.
The same year Channel 4 viewers and Sunday Times readers voted for their top 100 adverts. The big budget commercials with technical wizardry and visual special effects were overshadowed by older, less sophisticated ads such as the Smash Martians, R Whites' Secret Lemonade Drinker and Hamlet cigars.
Nostalgia, it seems, can be a winning ingredient. In a survey by advertising agency VCCP, most of the 1,000 respondents remembered older jingles such as 'A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play', first aired in 1965; L'Oréal's 1967 and on-going catchphrase 'Because I'm Worth it'; and the classic 'Beanz Meanz Heinz', first seen in the 1960s. That slogan was dropped after 30 years when Heinz wanted its brand to be synonymous with more than just baked beans, but it has recently been revived after market research found the majority of customers wanted it back.
It's no wonder, then, that our TVs have seen a resurgence of well-known adverts from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Last spring Hovis revived its ad featuring a boy pushing a baker's bike up a hill after it was voted favourite in an online survey. It marked the brand's 120th birthday and was shown 33 years after it first hit our screens.
Hovis marketing manager Alyson Ebbrell says: "There can be a tendency to over-complicate adverts with high-tech graphics. They may well appeal to the people making them, but they don't always have the consumer at heart. You hear numerous times from consumers that there are quite a lot of commercials they don't understand. We've brought back 'The Boy on the Bike' several times since it was first shown and it seems to get into people's DNA."
Bernard Matthews is following suit with a campaign based on the popular 1989 advert, in which a boy relays his experiences from scout camp and announces that "It's great to be home, mum" after being fed Turkey Drummers.
The new £1m campaign features the original mum talking about her 'Golden Moment' of appearing in the advert and encourages viewers to share their experiences on a dedicated website, with a chance to win a holiday to Australia's Gold Coast.
Bernard Matthews marketing director Matt Pullen says: "We wanted to bring back some of the nostalgia that exists around that advert and the brand itself. But rather than just showing the original advert as it was, we wanted to turn it into something relevant to today's mums."
Pullen believes that re-inventing brands can jeopardise consumer loyalty. "Marketers need to recognise that there are really strong historical strengths in the brand and it's about building on these," he says. "That's the way to deal with history - you need to treat it with respect, but turn it into something more modern and relevant."
Retro advertising is also being used to reassure consumers about a brand while introducing them to new products. Bernard Matthews launched its Mini Golden Drummers within the 'Coming Home' adverts. "It's a great opportunity for convenience stores to face up a new product and get some trials behind it," says Pullen.
Milky Bar is celebrating its 70th birthday with a £1m campaign that looks at 45 years of the Milky Bar Kid. Stretching back from black and white, to colour, to cartoon, the strapline 'Loved by kids of all ages since 1936' plays on the product's history.
Nestlé Rowntree trade communications manager Graham Walker says: "It's the consumers who own the brands and decide whether they live or die. If people have an emotional attachment to a product then absolutely bring back an advert that they remember."
Other brands are updating their adverts but using old jingles. 'Just one Cornetto' sung to 'O Sole Mio' returned to our screens in 2004 and then again this year when the Italian canals were replaced with London landmarks. As part of a £6.5m marketing investment in the Wall's brand, the adverts were supported with radio and cinema ads. The campaign theme was used to launch Cornetto Caramel.
Wall's Ice Cream brand manager Nikki French says: "The Cornetto theme has always been memorable - and people will always associate the tune with the product. The two have become synonymous with each other."
In the non-food sector, GlaxoSmithKline has re-aired its 'Billy Boy' advert featuring a cartoon pyjama-clad family with the jingle "Three in One Protection for the Family". Research by Millward Brown found that consumers remembered the imagery and catchy jingle and so the 30-second commercial was brought back to life.
The appeal is clear, but why have so many brands brought back the nostalgic adverts at this time? Hovis' Aylson Ebbrell says: "When we researched bringing back 'The Boy on a Bike' advert, it was when Jamie Oliver was first working with schools and the prevalent message was that today's mums want to go back to basics. We thought the advert was a very appropriate time to be re-aired to tie in with today's consumers who want to look back to past times."
Nestlé's Graham Walker agrees: "The new Milky Bar Kid advert shows the product has been around for a long time and this gives people comfort that it isn't something new and gimmicky that will be around for five minutes - it's a product with a good track record that has been selling well for 70 years and this can then add to the strength of the brand.
"The way the adverts seems to work is that current mums were given Milky Bars when they were small. New mums may not have eaten the product themselves for a few years but they remember Milky Bar, so the cycle goes round again. It's all to do with the permissibility trend, where mums need to feel confident in the products she feeds her children."
Let's go round again
Brand icons and characters have been used to sell products since the advent of marketing. Old favourites include the PG Tips Chimps and Lurpak's much-loved trombone player. Some brands have used many generations of the same character.
One of the most enduring brand icons has been advertising Andrex toilet tissue for more than 30 years. Kimberly-Clark re-thought its original campaign after advertising watchdogs objected to using a child running around with toilet paper, as it could encourage waste. It cleared the use of a puppy and it has been used in all 120 adverts for the brand.
Kimberly-Clark marketing manager Alex Pickering says: "The puppy has the vulnerability and the playfulness that we want to get across, which is an important metaphor for the softness of the product. It also allows us to communicate the category without mentioning toilets.
"Although it started on TV it has moved through to the packaging, on-pack offers, in-store prize draws and merchandise."
The branding seems to be working. In the convenience market, Andrex has a value share of 65%, with more than half of the UK buying the brand every year.
Pickering says that from the number produced, it is estimated that one in 10 households have an Andrex soft toy of some description. "The puppy increases awareness, enhances loyalty and elevates the brand so it has more of an emotional relationship with consumers. It also means we have better performing advertising compared with brands that don't have an icon," he says.
Kellogg's has been using brand icons since 1955 with the introduction of Cornelius the Cockerel and in 1953 Tony the Tiger was launched as one of the first characters in Kellogg's TV advertising. Rice Krispies' Snap, Crackle and Pop made their debut in 1928 on cereal boxes and poster ads, and were later introduced to television. In June this year they were given a makeover to make them more appealing to modern consumers.
So advertising is learning to cash in on the nostalgia boom, but how will this benefit retailers? Walker says: "Whenever there's a media campaign, sales are respondent. This means you should increase the display space and make sure you have each of the main products on the main fixture. But it's important to increase stock before the advertising kicks in because that's when you can be caught out."
Wall's Ice Cream's French agrees retailers should make sure they are fully stocked in the weeks surrounding any advertising campaign. And she says don't forget to use well-positioned, external pos and in-store signage to increase footfall.
Barry Marelli, 22
"I remember the Hovis 'Boy on a Bike' advert. 'It were after war' is something my dad used to say and he even bought a baker's bike after seeing the advert.
"What I would like to see return are those ads I remember when I was young, such as Club bars - 'If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit join our club'."
David Otter, 42
"I don't remember the Aquafresh ad but my daughter sings it, so it obviously appeals to children now.
"My family got their first TV in 1973 so I missed the Hovis 'Boy on a Bike' ad the first time.
"Perhaps subconsciously it would make me buy a product if I saw an ad that made me think of when I was younger."
Louise Comber, 32
"I'm not sure whether seeing an old advert would make me buy the products. A nice bit of reminiscing, but that's about it.
"I thought Grandma Beattie (BT) was very clever with Maureen Lipman, and I also liked the Barclaycard adverts with Rowan Atkinson as a secret agent."
The long goodbye
As old favourites of the advertising world are given another new lease of life, new rules may well see off some well-loved characters. The government's concern over children's diets led it to ask the advertising watchdog OFCOM to look at strengthening regulations on food and drink advertising to children and last week it revealed some stringent new proposals.
Its restrictions aim to limit under 16s' exposure to ads for food and drink that is deemed high in fat, salt and sugar. They include:
- A total ban on such ads in and around children's programmes and on dedicated children's channels, as well as during those programmes that attract a significantly higher than average proportion of viewers under the age of 16
- A ban on the use of celebrities and licensed characters, use of promotional activity such as free gifts, and health or nutrition claims in TV ads aimed at primary school children.
The changes are likely to take effect from February 2007. Although they seem dramatic (the trade had expected just under-9s to be affected) it could have been worse, as OFCOM had considered banning all ads for food and drink before 9pm.