Claire Beale On Advertising: There's not much X factor left in Oxo

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The Independent Online

If you want to understand a nation, look at its advertising. If you want to understand the Brits, look at the Oxo family. And if you want to understand advertising, look at the new Oxo Factor campaign.

Since Katie and Philip made their debut as the Oxo couple in 1958, Oxo's advertising has been a totem for the British way of life. Post post-war austerity, Katie and Philip represented all the promise of the modern age: good food, a nice house, a stable marriage – thanks to the fact that Katie knew Oxo "gives a meal man appeal".

In 1983 a new Oxo Family was born, arriving into the recovering economic climate of Thatcher's Britain. Just as cradle-to-grave social certainties were giving way to the rise of the self, along came Lynda Bellingham and the reassuringly familiar family unit, loving, happy and all sitting down together for Sunday lunch. Traditional Britain preserved in advertising aspic.

For 15 years the Oxo Family was comforting proof that in the dying embers of the 20th century, family values still held true and mum was still in the kitchen. But by 1999 the realities of modern life were unavoidable: the nuclear family had broken down and the Oxo Family had lost touch with its audience. The campaign was killed off.

Now Oxo's owner, Premier Foods, is reviving the family idea with a modern twist. The traditional family is dead, but apparently we're all Oxo families now. So we're all being invited to star in the next Oxo ads. And if Oxo ads have reflected the state of society for the past 50 years, then the brand's new ad campaign reflects the current state of British advertising. The ad strategy unveiled by Oxo's ad agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy last week has it all.

It's a veritable carnival of the latest advertising gimmicks. User-generated content? Tick. A micro site where you can post your own films? Tick. A competition with an attractive cash prize? Tick. A hefty dollop of nostalgia? Tick. It's all a little bit too familiar to be really interesting now.

The idea is that you film your family (or the best 2009 approximation to a family that you can muster) acting out the script provided, post it up on the Oxo website and the best effort will win £10,000 and a screening in the final of The X Factor on ITV1 this autumn.

Oxo is a mum's brand and I can't see many mums being turned on by the DIY advertising idea but if you're inspired enough to visit the Oxo Factor website, you'll find that it is cleanly designed and beautifully written. Some of the short films giving you tips on how to sprinkle your cube or how to act out the script are really lovely.

But will the new campaign re-engage younger consumers with the Oxo brand and exploit the fond nostalgia that today's parents have for a product they associate with the family meal times (and advertising) of their youth? I doubt it. While its advertising has moved with the times, the Oxo brand itself hasn't. There's a new Oxo cube shaped like an X, which is supposed to be easier to crumble and is a nice stunt to tie in with this new ad campaign. But Oxo is woefully out of step with modern eating and shopping habits, stuck in that dead supermarket aisle with all the other dry and dusty products few people buy any more.

Oxo has bought a thoroughly modern advertising strategy but it's trying to sell us a stale brand. The British public are going to have to come up with something pretty spectacular on film to put Oxo back on to the nation's shopping lists.

Best in Show: Cancer Research (Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO)

*Recessions are difficult times for charities. People have less money to donate, so there is less money to advertise for donations and you can see how a thoroughly vicious circle emerges. Which means that the ads that do get made have to work harder than ever, with immediate impact and effectiveness. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's latest work for Cancer Research does this job superbly. The new campaign edits the voices of a whole range of people who have been affected by cancer to create a script highlighting the terrible impact the disease has on its sufferers and their loved ones. I defy you to ignore this ad. I urge you to donate.

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