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40 Classic UK TV Advertising Campaigns Part 2

9th December 2021
Reading Time
11 minutes

Part 2: Cereals and Confectionery:


11. Weetabix cereal (Weetabix people)

The introduction of the Weetabix characters in the mid-1980s transformed the fortunes of the British breakfast cereal Weetabix. Each of them took the form of a Weetabix biscuit dressed in clothes and given a face and individual personality. They operated together as an animated street gang with youthful attitude and a sense of ‘cool’ governing their style and mannerisms.

Named Dunk, Crunch, Brains, Brian and Bixie, the Weetabix were not exactly an even representation of the gender spectrum, with all but Bixie having masculine personas. The names Dunk and Crunch were humorous references to actions Weetabix eaters are known to take with the biscuits themselves, while Brains and Brian were seemingly chosen for their comically similarly spelt names and to reinforce their sense of youthful informality (‘Brains’ having been a common nickname for any relatively intelligent young person in a group in the 1980s). ‘Bixie’ was named after Weetabix itself, but with an ending that made her sound relatively feminine, akin to the real name Trixie.

Some promotional materials featuring the Weetabix crew, such as stickers of the Weetabix performing as a band, e.g. ‘Dunk on Lead Guitar’, were featured as inserts in every pack sold while the promotional campaign lasted. Other merchandise, such as Weetamoulds (sold with paints and plaster of Paris, which allowed people to make and paint their own models of the Weetabix), were available at a set price to members of the Weetabix Club.

Bixie’s habit of exclaiming ‘Yeah!’ reflected the popular informal lingo for ‘Yes’ of the 1980s. Nowadays, the more muted ‘Yeh’ is more commonly heard.

The messaging around the Weetabix was that eating the cereal was compatible with street credibility as well as with living an energetic youthful or teenaged lifestyle, having friends, and getting out and about as part of a group.


12. Coco-pops cereal (rhyming songs)

Coco-Pops was one of several highly sweetened breakfast cereals marketed primarily at children by the Kellogg Company in the UK in the 1980s, alongside Frosties, Ricicles, Puffa Puffa Rice, Honey Smacks and Crunchy-Nut Cornflakes. In addition to being available in a large box, it was also frequently included in the miniature 'variety packs' of eight Kellogg's cereals that were designed for use by families while travelling.

The Coco Pops rhyming song introduced to our screens in the early 1980s is one of the best examples of the power of song in cementing brand familiarity. The playful use of rhymes with the names of a wide variety of toys, common household objects and cultural reference points in each advertisement inspired learning and enquiry among children, as well as making for a song that was quite easy to learn and remember.

The music in combination with the simple animated cartoon scenes has a psychedelic feel that would not have been out of place in a cartoon production of the 1970s, such as The Magic Roundabout. 

The compilation of three iterations of the advertisement linked here showcases the changes that were made to the rhymes to keep the song fresh, although the first version was by far the most screened. The second and third versions use more imprecise rhymes than the first, e.g. 'Building Blocks', 'Paint Pots', 'Robots', 'Forget-Me Nots' (amusingly mistranscribed on the screen as 'Forget-Me Knots'), 'Flower-Pots', 'Chatterbox'. 'Granny Knots', 'Join the Dots', 'Goldilocks', 'Chicken Pox', 'Old Crocs, and 'Peacocks'. 

In places, the rhyming imagery is blended into the song as though in apparent descriptive reference to the experience of eating the cereal, notably the line 'Snow drops... chocolate flavour!' which evokes the milk being poured onto a bowl of the cereal resembling snowfall.

Finally, the punchline arrives: 'But nothing tops Kellogg's Coco Pops' - the messaging being that however much fun all the other things mentioned may be, they are not as pleasurable as the experience of eating Coco Pops.

As a means of enthusing children with a song whose addictive qualities resembled those of the cereal itself, the campaign was highly effective.


13. Shredded Wheat Cereal (Brian Clough ‘100%’ pep-talk)

Shredded Wheat was a notable outlier among traditional commercial breakfast cereals in the UK on account of being made without added sugar and salt. After many years of former owner Nabisco using the tagline 'Bet you Can't Eat Three!' to advertise it, Shredded Wheat was sold to Cereal Partners (owners of the brand Nestlé) in 1990, and began to be sold as Nestlé Shredded Wheat instead of the longstanding Nabisco Shredded Wheat, accordingly.

The marketing of Shredded Wheat also underwent a phase of renewal in the early 1990s. In this famous campaign, the late Brian Clough (1935-2004), former England international footballer and long-time manager of the club Nottingham Forest, was portrayed requiring all his footballers to eat Shredded Wheat.

The messaging insinuates that if you eat 100% whole wheat with no added sugar or salt, you will perform at 100% of your capability at whatever work you may be required to undertake. The implication was clear: Shredded Wheat not only is healthy, but also gives you a higher level of productivity than rival cereals that have added sugar or salt.

Part of what made the advertisement so memorable was Clough's brusque, no-nonsense coaching manner towards the players. He was known to be thus in real life, and had been repeatedly overlooked for the job of England manager because of those same qualities. In effect, he had been asked to play a parody of himself. It was light entertainment, but the solid underlying messaging was nonetheless effective.


14. Trio chocolate biscuits (Trio song)

When biscuit company Jacob's introduced a chocolate bar called Trio in the early 1980s, it invested heavily in a TV advertising campaign centred upon an animated singing girl called Suzy, performing vocals as part of a musical trio playing a song loosely based on 'Day-O (the Banana Boat Song)'. She was depicted through her song and singing style as brash, loud, self-centred and impatient:

'Trio! Trio! I want a Trio, and I want one now!'

This negative portrait of the singing girl, reinforced by her exaggeratedly wide-open mouth and her stamping of her foot with sheer determination to get her way, seemed designed to resonate with parents greeted by their own hungry children. Where was a snack that would keep them quiet until their next meal-time when it was needed?

In spite of Suzy's selfishness and irritating voice and manners, the song also proved infectiously popular with schoolchildren, who were often heard singing it casually in changing rooms or in break times between lessons. Perhaps Suzy's bad manners made children feel better about their own insatiable appetites for sugary snack foods, excusing them? After all, they could not be worse than Suzy, could they?

The advertisement emphasises Suzy's ill-manners by contrasting them with the calm voices of the band playing with her. After their appeal to her to quieten down falls on deaf ears, eventually they stuff a pair of drums in her mouth to muffle her. This would seem shockingly violent if it were not for the cartoonish nature of the whole scene, but by 1980s' standards was somewhat milder than the Tom and Jerry fare to which children had grown accustomed.

The advertisement ends with the late DJ John Peel quipping: "No three things are quite as good together as a Trio!" which serves both as an advertising slogan for the bar and as an ironic statement on the fractious relationship between the members of the musical trio fronted by Suzy.


15. Flake Chocolate bar (‘Only the Crumbliest Flakiest Chocolate’ song)

Confectionery company Cadbury, which merged in 1969 with drinks company Schweppes to form Cadbury Schweppes, has a long history as a British chocolate maker going back to its foundations in mid-19th-century Birmingham.

The Flake bar was introduced in 1920, and has been enduringly popular ever since. To draw attention to its sensuous melt-in-the-mouth qualities, Cadbury began in the late 1950s to advertise it on television using models (invariably female) depicted as slowly savouring the experience of eating it in a relaxed setting.

A memorable exemplar of this long-running series of advertisements was this one from the mid-1980s, which portrays an adventurous-spirited young woman rowing solo in the remote tropical wilderness, and pausing to nonchalantly enjoy a delicious Flake bar while her boat drifts into a perilous-looking cavern.

The messaging was primarily targeting women who liked some independence and enjoyed adventure. The role of the adventurer had traditionally been portrayed in film as male - think Indiana Jones, for example. Yet, here was a woman in a similarly exotic rainforest setting, coping just fine all by herself. Free to enjoy her pleasures in life without needing to ask permission from anyone else, she was a new woman at a time when feminism was only just starting to become more mainstream in British society.

Secondarily, the messaging was also targeting men who might be excited by such a brave-spirited and sensually indulgent woman as the one portrayed here, tempting them to try out Flake bars for themselves.

The tradition of using female models to advertise Flake was halted temporarily in 2004, perhaps out of a sense that it was sexist and outmoded; however, it was revived only three years later. Perhaps Cadbury realised that however controversial it had become, the long-running campaign was still likely to be more successful than any alternative it could devise?

The accompanying song, whose lyrics run 'Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate tastes like chocolate never tasted before', served as the effective advertising slogan for the chocolate itself, emphasising its exceptional textural and taste qualities.


16. Milk Tray chocolates (‘All Because the Lady Loves Milk Tray’ James Bond spoof)

Cadbury's Milk Tray Chocolates were launched in 1915 and have been in production ever since. Originally, the chocolates were sold loose in shops on large trays, hence the name 'Milk Tray', before they were repackaged in ready-boxed fashion.

Launched in 1968 when the James Bond film franchise was in its early prime, the Milk Tray Man (originally played by Australian model Gary Myers, born 1941, who continued in the role until 1984), was a character introduced by Cadbury as a thinly-disguised pastiche of the well-known action hero. Whereas Bond would risk his life on adventurous missions in the employment of the British Secret Service, Milk Tray Man had a laughably pedestrian mission by comparison: to deliver a box of Milk Tray Chocolates to a woman who loved them.

While such a mission could conceivably have been undertaken in a straightforward manner, by purchasing the box in a shop and walking calmly to the lady's house to surprise her with it as a present, that was not enough for the purposes of the glamorous mystique Cadbury wanted to weave around its Milk Tray product.

And so, the gift-giver was portrayed as undertaking dangerous James Bond-style stunts on fabulously treacherous journeys through remote places to even reach the woman he had set out to give them to. It was all an obvious joke, but one that played into people's sense of romance.

The romantic associations Cadbury wanted to instil in connection with its product were reinforced by the tagline 'And all because the lady loves Milk Tray...'.

The implicit messaging was that women love Milk Tray chocolates, and giving a box of them to a woman is one of the most romantic gestures a man can make, turning him into a virtual hero.

Although it was complete nonsense on a rational level, the emotional messaging worked, and the absurdist humour did not stop the campaign from being a long-running success. After a pause starting in 2003, the campaign was revived in 2016, perhaps out of a sense of nostalgia, or in recognition that the market for Milk Tray today is predominantly an older one that remembers the earlier advertisements.


17. Roses chocolates ('Thank you very much!' song)

Another of Cadbury's popular selections of chocolates is Roses, a box (formerly a tin) of individually pre-wrapped chocolates spanning a wide variety of flavours. It was launched in 1938, taking its name from a Lincolnshire-based company called Rose Brothers that supplied the machinery used to automatically package the chocolates.

Despite the banal origins of its name, Roses was nonetheless advertised with the imagery of the flowers of the same name. Just as roses are often traditionally given as thank-you gifts, so too could Roses chocolates be - at least, so Cadbury would have us all think.

This was reflected in the 'Thank you very much!' TV advertising campaign of the 1980s, which depicted in song a variety of scenarios in which people could thank each other by giving each other boxes of Roses chocolates.

Unlike with the advertising for Milk Tray, there were no romantic associations implied. Roses were sold as being a gift for friends and family, and suitable for people of all ages.


18. Quality Street chocolates ('What's Your Favourite Favourite?' song)

In the 20th century, another British confectionery giant, Rowntree Mackintosh, had its own selection of individually wrapped chocolates and toffees called Quality Street. The product had a longstanding rivalry with Cadbury's Roses, and was launched just two years earlier, in 1936.

For many years, whether you were more a Roses person or a Quality Street person said a lot about your personality. The chief difference in practice was the unashamed inclusion of several types of hard toffees in the Quality Street selection, whereas Roses were solely chocolates.

In this advertisement from the mid-1980s, when it was still owned by Rowntree Mackintosh (a company founded in Halifax, Yorkshire), Quality Street is advertised using an American-style 1950s-ish rock-n-roll song, whose punchline is 'What's your favourite favourite from Quality Street?'

The advert assumes firstly that the Quality Street selection as a whole is, or at least should be, everybody's favourite. The only valid question is taken as being which individual variety from your favourite selection is your 'favourite favourite'.

The upbeat American rock'n'roll-themed music contrasts markedly with the staid, polite English song of the contemporaneous Roses advertisement. Apparently, Rowntree was trying to appeal to a market that was less southern, delicate and middle-class, and more robust, energetic, northern and working-class. 

In 1988, Rowntree Mackintosh was bought out by Nestlé. Quality Street has continued to be produced ever since, but under the Nestlé brand name. 


19. Fudge (Finger of Fudge song)

Another piece of confectionery made by Cadbury's that was successfully advertised on television for many years in the later 20th century was Fudge, a slender log-shaped bar consisting of a soft, fudge-like centre wrapped in milk chocolate. First launched in 1948, it has been in production ever since.

As this example shows, it was marketed chiefly at primary school-aged children, for whom, the song promises, it can serve as a 'treat'.

The advertisement depicts schoolchildren variously running into class and enjoying playing with conkers while dressed in their school uniforms. Meanwhile, one mother has stopped by in the street outside to offer her son a bar of Cadbury's Fudge to eat during break time. The implication is that Cadbury's Fudge can give children added energy for getting through the school day.

The song itself, which is sweetly sung by children and accompanied by a delightful flute harmony, tends to suggest that you can feed your children Fudge as a treat but without spoiling them or turning them into little horrors: they will still be good kids!

The line 'It's full of Cadbury goodness, but very small and neat' implies that in spite of being confectionery, it is more healthy than unhealthy, and also that it is not big enough to be fattening and is easy to carry around as part of a packed lunch.

These virtue-oriented messages contrast markedly with the indulgent, adult-oriented advertising by the same company of its Flake bar (described above).


20. Mentos Chewy Mints (‘Mints should be like this: rock ‘ard!’)

Mentos mints, a Dutch product, have been in production since 1932. In the 1980s, they were heavily marketed on British television as 'chewy mints' with an emphasis on how their chewiness marked them out from traditional hard mints.

This was epitomised in the satirical advertising campaign shown here. It portrays the board of an old-fashioned family-owned (and evidently Yorkshire-based) confectionery company called the Rockard Mint Co. Ltd., discussing the threat of competition from Mentos Chewy Mints.

The board members sample the Mentos mints and murmur approvingly at the taste and texture. The company owner's son then suggests that they should make a chewy mint too! But his father, who is chairing the meeting, is furious at this idea, and shows that he is too set in his ways to even contemplate it, when he exclaims:

'Chewy mints?! Cheeeewy mints?! 'As thee all gone soft? Mints are meant to be like this: rock 'ard!' [sic: = 'rock hard']

To demonstrate, he places a Rockard hard mint on the board room table, and attempts to crush it with a mallet, only for the table to be split in two and the mint itself to emerge entirely unscathed, filling him with pride. The fact that the board members reflexively move their teacups off the table suggests this may not be the first time Mr. Rockard has pulled this stunt!

The joke is at the expense of the perceived inflexible mentality of the makers of hard mints. The caricature of them played by the chair of the Rockard Company is meant to make the audience laugh at them and flex its own preconceptions in the direction of being open to trying out chewy mints.

As a piece of psychologically manipulative marketing dressed up as comedy, it was highly effective; some 35 years later, it remains distinguished as one of the most dramatic TV advertising campaigns ever to have been screened in the UK. 


Continue to Part 3: Coffee, cough sweets, dairy products and stock

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