Full of beans
Latchkey kids and single parent families are far from typical fodder used by British advertisers to sell their wares. The traditional approach plays on our aspirations - peddling dreams rather than the harsh realities of Nineties life. Which is exactly why Heinz chose to break the mould in its latest TV campaign which broke last week.

In one commercial, we see kids returning home after school and starting to make their own tea before their mother's return. In another an exhausted lorry driver coming home late, whose only glimpse of his kids is when they're in bed, asleep.

Central to each is one of Heinz' staple products - tinned soup, tomato ketchup and spaghetti. The aim? "To support Heinz' position at the heart of a safe and secure family life," explains Andy Bryant, board account director at Heinz advertising agency Bates Dorland. "We wanted contemporary Nineties family situations rather than fantasy or nostalgia. It is an attempt to make Heinz feel up to date, whilst still retaining its traditional core values for being constant and comforting."

Gone are direct references concerning the product - that Heinz "meanz" more tomato, greater thickness, better taste. And in an added twist, the music chosen to accompany each commercial is the Zulu rhythms of African band Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The contrast is stark. "It distances the campaign from the predictable associations of Western music," Bryant explains. "It creates a fresh, contemporary impression of Heinz and underscores the warm, human emotions of the commercials."

The effect is undoubtedly reassuring, although the strategy is not risk- free. Advertising traditionally lays itself open to criticism when dabbling in "real" issues and social concerns. One recent advertisement for McDonalds, for example, prompted a flurry of complaints after showing a young boy stage-managing a "chance" meeting between his estranged parents.

Heinz spokesman Steve Marinker doubts the company's latest efforts could cause anyone offence. "People are becoming much more advertising literate and far more cynical about what they see. It's intriguing that, in 1997, there are still many ads which contain a saccharine view of British life - sun pouring through the window onto the breakfast table, blonde blue- eyed kid, rugged dad." This is where the real danger lies, he claims. "We are simply trying to be up to date and relevant to our consumers."

The company's strategy to date certainly seems to be having this effect. Despite press reports three years ago that Heinz would begin to favour direct marketing - better known to many as "junk mail", the company has continued to spend money on TV and press advertising to communicate key products. A wider range of personalised direct marketing activities have been designed to strengthen the company's relationship with the consumer.

When a price cutting war recently hit the baked beans business, sales of Heinz Baked Beans remained unaffected - the company claims - even in the face of retailers selling own-brands for 2p a tin. Today, Heinz enjoys a 53 per cent share of baked beans sales, 57 per cent share for ketchup and 59 per cent share of the tinned soup business. Expect Heinz to play on the emotions for quite some years to come.