It's 1959 and Stirling Cooper's smoking, drinking, shagging, pitching '*bitching. And, oh, the clothes. If you saw BBC4's Mad Men show last night, you'll know exactly what I mean. The series is set in the Madison Avenue ad agency Stirling Cooper as the Fifties roll into the Sixties and it's as testosterone-fuelled as a soiled jockstrap. Sexist, racist, rude, crude and very funny.
In fact, it's just the sort of agency that would coin a jingle like "a Mars a day helps you work, rest and play", which was, indeed, conceived in 1959.
If you're over the age of 10 (which surely you are) you'll be humming "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play" even as I type. Well, we grew up with it, didn't we. It was catchy, and after decades of repetition, it would be a very poor jingle that became forgettable.
I wonder if Mars' decision to exhume the line was in any way informed by the fact that the nation (or at least the adland nation) is being gripped by advertising nostalgia.
Perhaps it's just a beautiful coincidence that "work, rest, play" (no "and" for 2008) should reappear as the BBC kicks off a whole season of advertising retrospectives. Perhaps not. Either way, it's been a PR dream.
The story of the return of "work, rest and play" was last week's media darling. So you'll already know all about the bell-ringing monks in the new campaign whose musical efforts get a funky boost after a few Mars bars.
Here's why they've brought the line back – at least, the official, press-release why: "We have decided to echo the iconic strapline because it's so fondly remembered and just as relevant now as it ever was," according to Mars' brand manager, Caroline Jary.
She should have stopped there, really, because the rest of her quote makes me feel rather uncomfortable: "By shortening the line simply to "work, rest, play" it conveys a more contemporary message, reflecting the very modern interest in achieving a balanced lifestyle and approaching every aspect of our lives with a positive 'can do' attitude." Eurgh.
It does make you wonder why they knifed the line in the first place. Way back when, Mars used the line "Mars in marvellous" in its ads, and talked a lot about the creamy centre and full-cream chocolate. Bob Monkhouse and Petula Clark starred in a celebrity endorsement campaign that used the line "Stars love Mars". It was all very, erm, sweet, and a little naive.
So when "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play" was created by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, it was way more-hard hitting: Mars will sustain, energise and nourish you.
It was a sentiment – and a line – that took the brand through the next four decades, and the strategy was underlined by a close association between Mars and sport. Remember when Mars sponsored the London Marathon?
In the current obesity/junk food advertising climate, it's unlikely that Mars could get away with such associations in its advertising. In fact, even back in the early Nineties Mars was attacked for making health claims for the brand when the pressure group Action and Information on Sugars complained to then TV regulator, the Independent Television Commission. The ITC found in Mars' favour; today they probably wouldn't.
By 1996, even Mars found the line inappropriate, and ditched it for a more touchy-feely, emotional strategy centred on pleasure: "Mars make it happen", "Must be Mars", "Mars can make your dreams come true", "Pleasure you can't measure".
If you're looking for further evidence of how ad times have changed on the subject of health claims, rewind a few months. Remember the story about the British Egg Information Service, which wanted to bring back the old Tony Hancock "Go to work on an egg" campaign written by Fay Weldon in the Sixties. The BEIS was told it couldn't rerun the ads because the suggested ovum-only diet was not nutritionally balanced.
Anyway, the Mars bar is still the UK's biggest "single" confectionery brand (that is, the biggest confectionery brand that isn't a packet of something), but competition is more fierce than ever and we're more acutely aware than ever that big, fat choccie bars like Mars might not be as good for us as a banana. So it's no surprise that the brand is looking to a rejuvenated, if nostalgic, ad strategy to boost sales.
Whether the simple matter of adding three familiar words to a new campaign will be enough is another thing altogether. It might ring the PR bells and press the nostalgia buttons, but is Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's new campaign any good?
Yes, it is any good. Of course. It's not very good, but it's fun and packs more of a punch than any Mars ad of recent years (can you remember any?). The soundtrack gives it some standout: House of Pain's "Jump Around". The monastery setting is a bizarre choice for 2008 (despite the nostalgia theme), but again, it's different. There's a strategy here that can run and run.
And let's not forget that even though we might all remember "A Mars a day...", the ads themselves were mostly bland and clichéd. The jingle was everything.
So I'd bet the new campaign is on track to boost sales. You just can't help thinking Stirling Cooper would have come up with something that had a bit more balls and bite.
FANCY MAKING an ad? OK, if you work in advertising, let's assume the answer is yes. But how about the rest of you? If you've made it this far through this column, chances are you have more than a passing interest in advertising and marketing. So you could be just the person Doritos is looking for.
The snack brand is inviting the public to come up with an idea for its next campaign. You can vote for the shortlisted entries online. The winner will get £20,000 – and, who knows, the chance to break into advertising.
Funnily enough, in a press ad launching the competition, Doritos' agency – AMV, again – advises entrants to avoid "annoying jingles" and "trying to be like well street blood just coz you is advertising to the yoof, innit". Wise advice.
Cynics might now be wondering whether all this punter-plays-adman stuff might just be about getting a cheap ad. Well, a cheap ad is certainly what they'll get. Nasty, too, if the user-generated ads in the US are anything to go by. But that's not the point of it.
What Doritos is looking for is a new dialogue with consumers, a two-way relationship that makes the brand more accessible and intimate. And lashings of "free" PR, naturally. At least that's the user-generated content theory. The ad itself, ultimately, is a bit irrelevant.
Claire Beale is editor of CampaignReuse content