Vesta's return - Just add TV

The vogue for breathing new life into old brands from the Sixties and Seventies goes from strength to strength. First it was Spam. Then Spangles. And now Vesta Meals, the ultimate in easy to prepare ready meals. Vesta is back on TV after an absence of eight years with an advertising campaign that takes the form of a spoof rockumentary series charting the fortunes of Britain's most consistently unsuccessful rock band, The Vestas.

In a series of five, three-minute long ads, we learn how lead singer Wally Wallis and his pals fare from the mid-60s beat boom through to their glam-rock phase in the early Seventies. Each installment features past and present interviews and archive footage. The result is a joy, not least thanks to the po-faced commentary of Johnnie Walker and a Vestas' family tree constructed by rock archivist Pete Frame. Further installments have yet to be made, including the band's heavy metal period (Iron Vesta).

Episodes one to five are running at the same time each Friday night for the next month taking up an entire commercial break. Each is plugged in the preceding week by ten-second trailers. Tour T-shirts and a CD have already been produced and the band, fronted by real-life singer Les Payne (once voted Britain's least successful musician), may even go on tour in the new year.

Yet despite the grand scale of the idea, the campaign has been constructed on an advertising shoestring. "An extremely modest budget," is how Sara Bennison, Vesta account director at advertising agency Ammirati Purls Lintas, describes the pounds 250,000 total cost. "We planned a single 20 second commercial, but the idea mushroomed," she explains. "But we did it all for the agreed budget, calling in many favours to do so."

Vesta wants to introduce itself to a new generation, she says. Launched back in 1962, the brand was the first taste of Indian cuisine for many. However, the growth since of eating out and arrival in the UK of a broader range of exotic world cuisine took the edge off subsequent sales.

Vesta's boom time was the Seventies, when it became a staple of student larders throughout the land, says Vesta spokesperson Helen Park. "We enjoyed a steady and loyal following, notably amongst former students who introduced their brands to kids. We have since been less able to attract a new following."

So, Vesta tightened its belt, pulling out of TV advertising in 1988. But, in the words of Bennison: "It refused to die". And with the recent nostalgia fad for Seventies' brands, Vesta has decided the time is now for resurrection. Although success will only be evident in six to 12 months, the company is quietly confident. "Vesta enjoys a 70 per cent share (by volume) of the pounds 20m dried ambient food* market," Park says. "If The Vestas take off as we hope, we could double (our) volume."

*Dried ambient foods are neither frozen or "wet". Nor are they reconstituted, like Pot Noodle (for which you just add water). They are, in effect, a meal kit, comprising sauce and noodles or rice, which are boiled, simmered or fried. Mmmm.

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