Skip to main content

40 Classic UK TV Advertising Campaigns Part 1

9th December 2021
Reading Time
11 minutes

Part 1: Fruit drinks, beer and tea

In this series of articles, we shall review a selection of classic UK TV advertising campaigns, trying to identify in each case what made them so successful and memorable in order to draw lessons from them for marketing.

1. Um-Bongo tropical fruit drink (song)

This advertisement for a tropical fruit drink ranks alongside the nowadays controversial one for the similar Kia-Ora as one of the most memorable of all TV advertising campaigns, and it shows in the 2.5 million views attained by the main YouTube upload since July 2009.

The concept was simple: to deliver an immersive experience of the tropics where the exotic fruits whose juice is used in the drink are grown. To this end, an animated scene joins forces with a hypnotic African-style rhythm voiced over by a rap. The lyrics are simultaneously displayed on the screen, encouraging the target market of children to learn them, and making sure everyone knew that the drink product contained apricot, guava and mango juice. Often repeated in school playgrounds, this was viral marketing in action well before the Internet became widely used.


2. Ribena drink (animated blackcurrants)

Ribena’s advertising campaign of the early 1990s featured a whole army of cute, cuddly-looking purple berries brought to life on the screen, playing like healthy, happy schoolchildren in a playground. That was (and is) exactly the target market for this sugary blackcurrant drink long marketed for its health benefits for children on account of the relatively high content of Vitamin C.

A whole succession of different advertisements featuring the berry army was screened. At the very end of each, one of the berries on the screen would jump up suddenly, exclaiming ‘Woo!’ before the action would then freeze on that final frame. This not only reinforced the sense of the health benefits of the drink by showing one of the berries performing an energetic leap, but also gamified the campaign by implicitly inviting viewers first to guess and then to remember which of the berries on screen would be the one to perform the final leap.

Gamification is something we've seen less of in more recent ad campaigns, perhaps superseded by more interactive social media adverts.


3. Robinsons fruit drinks (Pat Cash at Wimbledon)

Robinsons, makers of a variety of sweetened fruit squashes and cordials, have a long tradition of sponsoring the Wimbledon tennis championships in London. For many years, their drinks could be seen on court; they enjoyed privileged product placement right beside the players’ seats, whether or not the players actually cared to consume them.

The tournament would frequently be accompanied by a relevant Robinsons TV advertising campaign, to reinforce the association in the public’s mind and boost sales over the summer season.

Various different advertisements ran over the years. In one particularly memorable example, Australian former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash is seen asking a boy to hold his drink (Robinsons, of course) for a moment while he signs his autograph for the boy’s mother (in a clear reference to Cash’s popularity among women in particular at the height of his fame).

Faced with the delicious-looking drink, the boy cannot resist taking a sip, and then gulps it all down, causing an indignant Cash to playfully rebuke him. The message that Robinsons is an irresistibly tasty drink that can also be fun and slightly naughty is thus driven home, appealing to the main market of children and their parents.


4. Coca Cola (Coca Cola Is It campaign)

Throughout the 1980s, the Coca Cola Company heavily advertised its trademark cola drink on British TV. The longest-running campaign of the decade featured a memorable song ending in the tag-line ‘Coca-Cola is it!’

The American accent and energetic delivery of the singer and the use of expressions like ‘It’s a hit!’ and ‘It’s a kick!’ are designed to reinforce at the same time the energy-giving powers of the drink and its association with a high-flying American-style lifestyle combining work with leisure.

This aspirational lifestyle imagery is further backed-up by the carefully judged video footage.


5. Springfield Bitter (Spring song)

Brewing company Mitchells & Butlers, established in 1898, was one of the most powerful forces in 20th century beer in the UK, especially after it merged with Bass in 1961. The original brewery shut down in 2002, but the company continues in operation to this day.

Among its many products was Springfield Bitter, which has an even older history, having been in production from 1873. Although the drink was unexpectedly discontinued after 118 years in 1991, its advertising campaign of the 1980s remains an acknowledged classic.

The advertisement is set in an ordinary-looking pub. The moment one of the customers takes his first sip of the brew, an infectiously memorable song starts playing in the background, creating a sense of good feelings that come from the experience of sipping the drink. The words of the song reinforce the brand identity: the constant repetition of ‘Spring! Spring! Spring! Spring!’ having the effect of lodging the first syllable of the brand-name firmly in viewers' memories. The song is further set to the background of an innovative piece of animation that sees tankards come to life and give choral voice to the melody. The animated scenes are interspersed with the photographic scenes from the pub, creating the illusion that they were a coherent whole. A pianola (self-playing piano) in the photographic scenes adds to the sense of magic.

The campaign is a good example of how creating feelings around a product can be more important than directly describing it in appealing to the target market. It's hard to get across the taste of a drink through an advert, but showing the emotions associated with it is more effective.

Soon afterwards, lager company Skol duplicated a key element of the Springfield song in its own TV advertising campaign featuring the rhythmically repeated line ‘Skol! Skol! Skol! Skol!’ While we have no proof that this was a deliberate copy, the saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery springs to mind - no pun intended.


6. Carling Black Label Lager (Elderly break-dancer)

Carling Black Label Lager was advertised primarily at a masculine demographic in the 1980s. In the early part of the decade, the slogan ‘Carling Black Label, Get It Right!’ was sung in the style of a hard rock vocal.

This was then superseded by the long-running ‘I Bet He Drinks Carling Black Label Campaign’, which ran through many iterations, each of them featuring a man performing some feat that led a bystander to exclaim ‘I bet he drinks Carling Black Label!’

One of the most popular was this one featuring a fairly average-looking man in his 60s or thereabouts who suddenly and unexpectedly performs an energetic break-dance to hip-hop music while walking down the street.

The message conveyed is that for men of a certain age, drinking Carling Black Label can be a source of extended energy, health and vigour and allow them to remain competitive with much younger men.


7. Guinness (Rutger Hauer 'Pure Genius' campaign)

In the later 1980s, having experimented with a campaign gently poking fun at non-Guinness-drinkers by calling them collectively 'the Guinnless', Guinness moved into new marketing territory by adopting the tagline 'Pure Genius' for its trademark brand of stout beer. After the first few advertisements with this slogan, it hired Danish actor Rutger Hauer to star as an unflappably calm Guinness drinker in a surreal, humorous campaign that lasted seven years.

The advertisements used the power of suggestion and their portrayal of a relaxed, carefree lifestyle to which to aspire to sell the drink, without directly saying anything about it other than the tagline 'Pure Genius'. They appealed to the sense that audiences had to be clever to understand what they were getting at, and by flattering those who did, they were appealing to their sense of superiority and in turn associating the product with a sense of prestige and exclusivity. This also tied into the tagline. If you were really clever (a genius), then perhaps Guinness was a well-suited drink for you as you would appreciate its exceptional qualities more than you would appreciate other brands of beer.

The choice to cast Hauer worked on several levels. He had starred in cult classics such as Blade Runner, which gave him an air of not-quite-mainstream coolness. Furthermore, his dark clothing and shock of white hair made him physically resemble a pint of Guinness.

The portrayal of Hauer as a solitary Guinness drinker is also thought to have been designed to appeal to the increased individualism of the late 1980s and early 1990s. By showing him enjoying the drink on his own for pure pleasure, it was implying that Guinness was not a drink you had to put up with just to fit in socially at the pub, but was also one you could enjoy quietly by yourself. Since Guinness was widely available in canned form at supermarkets, and not just in pubs, this was not an unrealistic lifestyle for the target market to seek to emulate.

Prior to the 'Guinnless' campaign of the mid-1980s, Guinness had become associated with an older demographic, and the Guinnless campaign was successful in recruiting new young working-class drinkers while it lasted. The following 'Pure Genius' campaign would appear to have been aimed at a broad range of ages centred around middle-age - matching the demographic of Hauer himself, who was in his 40s at the time of the campaign - but also reaching younger audiences who enjoyed the surreal humour of the advertisements.

The Pure Genius campaign was incredibly successful, and generated countless conversations in workplaces and social gatherings with each new advert. Despite its popularity, it was finally dropped in the mid-1990s when market research indicated that it was no longer driving additional sales. It had found its target market, and it was felt to be time to move on to new styles of advertising to appeal to a new younger audience.


8. Tetley tea (‘For we all agree Tetley make tea-bags make tea’ song)

The Tetley Tea Folk were a popular group of animated characters supposedly representing the staff working for the company that makes Tetley tea. They were featured for many years in Tetley’s TV advertising campaigns. A long-running series of these used the slogan ‘Tetley make tea-bags make tea’.

While in later examples, it was not uncommon to hear the slogan voiced in mere speech, it was originally a song. This example captures the full tune sung in a harmonious barber’s shop-style chorus, and reminds of just how catchy it was.

The effective messaging from the song is that Tetley tea has a harmonious balance and will leave you feeling relaxed and satisfied, while that from the slogan is ‘look no further than Tetley as it’s captured the art of tea-making to perfection’.


9. PG Tips tea (‘I can’t get a picture out of your telly, Missus!’)

Rival tea brand PG Tips also treated British TV viewers to a long-running advertising campaign based on somewhat surreal characters – in this case, however, animation was foregone, and instead PG used real trained chimpanzees dressed in human clothing.

Over the top of the visuals, dialogue representing ordinary, unpretentious British residents was superimposed, instilling a homely feel to the brand and making each advertisement resemble a scene from a soap opera.

There were frequently comical elements to the dialogue too, such as in this example the memorable lines:

“I can’t get a picture out of your telly, Missus!”

“I’m not surprised. That’s the microwave!”

The joke was at the expense of late-adopters of microwave ovens, which had progressively swept the nation’s kitchens, starting in the mid-1980s. Even in the early 1990s, not all households had them yet, and not everyone knew how to use them.

Whereas Tetley was mainly selling its tea by appeal to the professionalism of its tea-makers, PG was selling the regular consumption of its tea by appeal to the sense of it fitting comfortably into the ordinary lifestyles of its drinkers.

The slogan ‘It’s the taste!’ that was usually voiced by one of the chimpanzees at the very end of each advertisement was all that was ever said about the tea itself. The implicit messaging was that it was worth paying a little more for PG than other brands because it tasted that bit better.


10. Typhoo Tea (Su Pollard with donkeys)

Our final classic advertisement from the world of tea companies features famous comedy actor Su Pollard enjoying a leisurely day out on the beach, taking a moment to sip her Typhoo tea while sunbathing. The taste gives her such a pleasant surprise that she exclaims ‘Oo!’

This immediately ushers in the surreal scene of a group of animated donkeys leaning over her enclosure while singing the song ‘Oo makes a lovely cuppa! No other tea will do!’ (to the tune of the song '[Una] Paloma Blanca’) and stamping their hooves in time to the rhythm.

The messaging here is different from that of both Tetley and PG. Typhoo is being marketed as both fun and pleasurable to drink.


Continue to Part 2: Cereals and Confectionery

Disclaimer: Please note that the videos embedded in this page are subject to copyright laws and remain the intellectual property of the companies that commissioned or filmed them. They are all externally hosted on Youtube, where they have been uploaded by people with no connection to GWS Media.

Want to succeed online?

GWS Media have over two decades of experience in all areas of online marketing work, from logo design and website design and development to copywriting, content marketing, SEO and email marketing. Contact us today for a chat about your project, and we'll be delighted to see if we can help.

Start a project