The Critics' Awards 1998: Advertisements - The rebranding of rice pudding? You can't be serious. So make it quite ridiculous instead

"Go West": it's an injunction that has caught the imagination of great people before, from Charles Kingsley to Hugh Grant. And the Village People. Their funny Seventies anthem provides the pulsing momentum for my favourite 1998 commercial, the one for Ambrosia Creamed Rice.

This ad has three things working for it: the tune, of course; the wonderful image of Mr Ooh-Aar riding a cow in Paddington Station; and surprise. It's utterly not what you expect from these purveyors of Sixties canned comestibles, with their usual low-budget country-fresh claims and big- pack shots.

And it's ridiculous throughout, with sublime choruses like, "Go West, where they say Ooh-Aar,/ Go West, where the sheep go Baa". My instincts say that this is a better way of kick-starting interest in an old favourite than, say, Kelloggs's formulaic approach to reviving cornflakes.

If you've got a brand whose role, status and imagery has been utterly changed by time and social trends, you can't merely reassert its Sixties Unique Selling Proposal. Similarly, you can't just go for straight nostalgia. You've got to take the risk of the Big Transformative Gesture, reckoning that in most of these situations you've got absolutely nothing to lose, because the traditional claims are completely burnt out. Something memorable, irrational and very funny might just remind people of why they liked this brand in the first place without detaining their rational neurones for an instant. It's a high-risk game; but in this instance, it has come off.

There were other things to like this year. Heineken reappeared with a well-made narrative Ad about some well-intentioned road-menders. Its no-SFX-no-comedians approach was cheering. The Ian Wright/ Martin Luther King treatment in the Mercury One-to-One series was the strong shot in an otherwise bland campaign. And the Somerfield woman made the best of a very difficult job, accentuating the positives in an also-ran retailer.

The Volkswagen Nerds-U-Like, worrying about door closures or the weight of plastic water bottles when they're in the bath or on the job, were consistently clever. Going with the flow on national stereotypes needs a precise judgement call about where they work for and against you. But dull, obsessive engineers look on-message for a brand which sells reliability.

And the commercials - nicely understated, marvellously unglamorous - get it just right. (No, he isn't pleased to see you, Missus, it really is a steel rule in his pocket at all times of the day or night.) And yet, excellent as the campaign is, it's not transformative, which is why it's just pipped by a comical cow.

But there was a lot to irritate this year. As advertising creatives get a bigger chemistry set from the makers of software magic, so they long to use it - down to the very last button. These tricks turn into down- market commodity and crass borrowed interest in next to no time. It's real lads' stuff, and they really should keep it for PlayStation.

The latest trick is a sort of Soho version of social realism - poor folks for real. It gets dangerously close to Wayne and Waynetta Slob sometimes. And it really isn't funny. Why don't they pick on ghastly rich people for a change? There's no shortage.

t Ad of 1998: Ambrosia Creamed Rice

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup