Home is where the soup is

PETER YORK ON ADS No 166: HEINZ TOMATO SOUP
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HEINZ tomato soup would probably be described as an iconic product now. It's certainly been around long enough. And the theme of its advertising hasn't really changed: that Heinz soups are the essence of family.

The current version appears at first to make claims to social realism. A middle-aged lorry driver with a battered face, and that sort of maxillary misalignment that comes from wearing the wrong teeth, walks home through some sort of very alienated-looking concrete-tunnel affair. (Grace under pressure; a working bloke; part of a community of decency.) And all the time the keening, soulful South African music is going, bringing with it, of course, a whole Cry the Beloved Country set of associations: authenticity, sincerity. (This is the first time I've known such music to be used in an ad, and it's very strong.)

Home for the toiler is an urban cottage, lit up, and a wife - younger looking - who embraces him in the hall (comfort and consolation). Then we get to the product; and here a set of over-ridingly compelling conventions take over, conventions so strong that they'd be observed were the setting a shack in Rwanda. Heinz tomato soup - like old-time Hollywood stars - must always be shot a certain way, from a certain angle, with a certain kind of bowl, to register a certain colour (actually somewhat orange) and with a certain amount of anticipatory steam.

There follows the soup-eating-and-enjoying scene. It's lovely. Heinz tomato soup is the wamth and comfort of home. In bed later, the solicitous wife reaches over and switches off the light. This ushers in a proverb in white, on a black screen: "and the men shall come home singing from the fields, for they have provided for their own".

This heroic Grierson-in-miniature formula is at least 30 years old; here it gives you the feeling it's been rediscovered by someone who wasn't around for Mark 1.

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