Advertising: Cod liver oil and the time capsules

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The Independent Online

Great clichés of 1970s comic advertising: No 35 is The Disbelieving Competitor. Typically this would involve a sweaty fat manager training his telescope/binoculars at the advertiser's shop and tearing his hair out at the incredible prices/quality/ brands available there. "How can they be selling Radiant Buttock designer-brand jeans for a tenner when I can't even buy them for that?" he'd be asking.

Perhaps you thought you would never see this kind of ad again, in a world of A-list endorsements, humorous sociopaths and designer special effects. But, as the philosopher-poets of marketing communications say, nothing dies. It's out there, it's waiting for you. The Disbelieving Competitor has reappeared in a Holland & Barrett commercial.

You may well have imagined that the healthfood company had been out of business these 12 years and more, but no, it's clinging on. And do you know how it's tantalising us and driving the crowds into its temple of brown food (every kind of muesli, dried apricots, a time capsule from 1983)? It's that killer KVI (Known Value Item), that massive staple of the retail price index, cod liver oil. Capsules of the stuff are 60 per cent off at Holland & Barrett, down to £1.49. Zinc and copper, tablets for people who'd otherwise have to suck the plumbing, are 70 per cent off at 89p. But odourless garlic, that staple of a dainty valetudinarian existence, is yet more swingeingly discounted - by 80 per cent, down to 99p.

The MD of Victor Vitamins (Terry and June office, sapele-finish furniture), who's sent his hapless son with a video minicam round Holland & Barrett, repeats each of these coups louder and more furiously than the last while his flaky wife capers through H&B filling her basket. It's the Holland & Barrett Better Than Half Price Sale.

Now there are two kinds of price-based advertising that work. One is significant discounting on known high-ticket items - furniture, cars - that push you to the Tipping Point of a buying decision you might otherwise delay. The other is Everyday Low Prices, the Asda approach, where you show how cheaply you can always buy small things you need lots of - like basic groceries. The Holland & Barrett approach is neither; you'd have to offer more than a few cheap cod liver capsules to lure most shoppers into a shop whose fascia, interior design and merchandise inspire the one crucial question: what on earth is Holland & Barrett for?

peter@sru.co.uk

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