York on Ads: The finer points of life beyond the refinery: No 37: Esso

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The Independent Culture
THE GORGEOUS tiger, silhouetted on top of a hill against red sky and what looks like a view of shining sea below, like an Alma Tadema out-take, tells you what to expect. After 30 years' investment in this brand identity, recently revived, the image instantly says Esso.

And indeed we're very swiftly - for this is a short, hard-working commercial - on to the Esso sign. But the legend below - 'snack and shop' - isn't exactly what we're expecting. Nor is what follows.

As a Neighbours-ish soundtrack plays, we see anything but cars and petrol. We see the values of, say, a better-end Holiday Inn crossed with the upscale urban shopping of Tesco Metro. Coffee frothing up, and yuppies drinking it; nice schoolboys with Coke and fries, a lovely California girl

buying - of course - fresh-whipped frozen yoghurt; a Helen Hayes-type old soul looking at expensive tarts with grapes and lumps of strawberry in them, and an early Travolta type buying a bunch of flowers for her indoors.

It's all utterly cliched, wholly delicious, highly effective - and still not a single reference to internal combustion (the California girl arrives by bike).

'There's never been an Esso shop like this before,' says the voice-over. And here we have it. Esso is going in for non-price competition by investing in its shops, making them a nicer experience for nicer people in nicer places. What more sensible way of dealing with a car-borne population with money to spare - one of upscale man's relatively few shopping opportunities - than by offering nice, quick little treats American-style? Petrol-station shopping is growing far beyond its Kit-Kat- and-cool-box origins.

My nearest Esso station in London - probably the flagship - is incredibly smart, with designer granite counters, a 'patisserie offer', good magazines and everything the commercial suggests. Except the setting, which, if you watch closely, appears to be wooded hills near Cannes in some shots and Santa Monica in others.

Videos supplied by Tellex Commercials.

(Photographs omitted)