Many have tried, but few have matched the success of the Nescafe Gold Blend advertising saga. Eleven years on and three Gold Blend couples later and it's still going strong, even if logic cannot quite come up with a reason why.

In the beginning there was Sharon Maughan - the successful and ambitious business woman. Could a woman be tough and tender? Would she find personal happiness as well as total fulfilment through her work? She did, of course, and persuaded rival coffee brand Kenco to come up with its own variation on the female executive ploy featuring Cheri Lunghi taking over her father's coffee business.

Then there was early Nineties Gold Blend Woman, played by Louise Hunt. Her dilemma was which of two men she should choose: Mr Smooth - dull but rich and a dead cert to stick by her when she lost her battle against the biological clock, or the unpredictable adventurer.

Both series of ads fast achieved cult status thanks to a carefully crafted publicity campaign which led to "will they, won't they?" tabloid coverage, a series of spin-off novels and a music compilation CD. Whether such potential is offered by the latest reworking, however, remains to be seen.

February 1998 and meet Gold Blend couple number three. He's late back from a meeting. She's in his office, pacing the floor. "Sorry, I don't have much time," he barks without raising his eyes. "Neither do I," she replies stonily.

And so down to business - a photo shoot-out between feisty female snapper and gruff young businessman. As she gets her angles, his ice melts until, session over, she packs her bags and heads for the door. "How close were you?" he asks. "Very close," is her enigmatic reply.

The ad might just as well be for Listerine or Sure for all the product placement it contains (or lack of it). But the mysterious emotional sub text - barbed comments, hard stares and silences - is a dead give-away. As is the cliff-hanger crafted to keep us on tenterhooks for episode two.

"To hold an audience, any storyteller can't continue to tell the same story," Nescafe's ad agency, McCann Erickson, obliquely explains. "Viewers expecting a straight-forward `boy-girl' romance will be surprised." The new Gold Blend heroine is more independent, McCanns adds - a woman "whose pursuit of happiness does not necessarily hinge upon a man".

Has Gold Blend woman taken a vow of celibacy? Or, even more radical, does she have a female friend? Probably neither. For the Nescafe formula is nothing if not constant. Another strong woman giving strong women the country over another reason to go out and buy Gold Blend. How very Nineties.