Claire Beale on Advertising

How a smart ad campaign tried to turn British men into domestic gods
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The Independent Online

I wonder if real people might be a little disappointed with the Dan Fielding story. I mean, the guy has led us on. We wanted to be led on, of course; that's the game. But today's payday and ... well, you might feel a little short-changed. Unless you're in marketing, in which case Dan Fielding's is a story for our age.

You're forgiven for not knowing exactly who Dan Fielding is; after all, that's what's tantalised us for the past 10 months. Dan Fielding has been a mystery we've been invited to solve.

A self-styled "domestic god", Fielding started appearing on YouTube back in February with a series of home-made shows that he was hoping would get commissioned for proper telly. There were tips on how to keep a tidy house and rustle up some tasty food, all designed to help domestically challenged young guys. Dan also got himself a page on MySpace, where more emerged about his life and his ferocious vanity and ambition. But Dan never seemed quite for real. How many men do you know who can cook fish in a dishwasher? Or get wax off a tie?

Of course, this is 2007, this is the internet and this is advertising. And Dan's about as real as a drum-playing primate. The signs have been there all along. For starters, Dan has made no secret of the fact that his passion for domesticity and his search for a TV show is being backed by a mystery brand; in fact, visitors to his YouTube and MySpace sites have been invited to enter a competition to work out who his sponsor is.

Clues have been seeded in the YouTube clips, and entrants were promised the chance of winning a top prize worth £700. In the real world, few people would slaver over 700 quid, but there's something about the digital space that flows the competitive juices of people with nothing better to do. One hundred thousand-plus have watched the YouTube clips and interacted with the blog, not bad at all from a standing start.

So now for the big reveal – today Dan's sponsor is unveiled and the real marketing story is told. The whole scam is a ruse by white goods giant Electrolux, which has been gnawing away at the problem of how to switch on young male consumers. And if you've had your eye on that £700 prize, I can reveal that you might have won... da, da... a tumble dryer.

Well, it might not quite be what the boys had in mind, but for an extremely dull brand category that could easily be forgiven for churning out endless forgettable price-led press ads, Electrolux has jumped into the digital deep end. The 100,000 people who've engaged with Dan Fielding might not sound like much (one ad in The Sun would reach more than 3 million), but this is all about experiments and relationships. And apparently there's not an ad agency in sight.

According to Ulrich Gartner, European head of communications at Electrolux, it's all about talking to twenty-something men in a new, more engaging way. And he's confident they want to hear this stuff from another bloke.

You've got to hand it to Electrolux for having the (liquid) balls to do something daft – it's not easy to turn men on to domestic appliances, and there are so many other, more obvious routes. If they're really serious – and brave – Electrolux must surely now turn the domestic god into an ad-funded TV series and make Fielding a real star.

My only frustration with the whole Dan Fielding idea is that I'm getting a little tired already of these mock-real characters using YouTube and MySpace to create a new, digital generation of brand icon. Now that a tumble dryer has done it, it's surely time for the cool brands to move on.

Joan Collins, Westlife, Wendy Richard, Ray Mears, Keith Harris and Orville... and that's just the Post Office. 'Tis the season for a marketing push, and advertisers are getting into a feverish rush in the battle for real celebrities. Look out for the Spice Girls for Tesco (at £1m a pop), Take That for M&S, and Macaulay Culkin for Orange. Celebrities in ads live on.

Yet, a new study by the website Mumsnet, for Marketing magazine, suggests that the "celebrity sells" cliché has had its run. Almost half of mums said they would be less likely to buy a product if it was being peddled by a star. And god forbid, poor advertiser, if you've signed up a Beckham for your brand: we like them least.

Of course, you expect a bit of star dust in the tinsel of Christmas campaigns, but the worst celebrity junkies at the moment are the supermarket chains, all OD-ing on star names: Denise Van Outen for Morrisons, Kerry Katona for Iceland, and Jamie Oliver for Sainsbury's; Tesco and Asda are battling it out with the entire Equity membership list.

Mind you, if you look at the statistics, there are actually fewer celebrities in ads these days. Five years ago, just under 20 per cent of ads had "stars" in them; now it's more like 5 per cent. The disconnect comes because it tends to be the biggest advertisers with the biggest budgets that throw dosh at a star turn and then show the ads incessantly.

Take the supermarkets again. Think about how often you see ads for Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda. Between them, the nation's supermarket chains spend £260m on advertising every year, so the chances are that will you see several every week; for mums at home, it might be several every day. Making this commercial wallpaper loud enough to have an impact, week in, week out, in what is possibly the most ferocious retail market, is one of advertising's biggest challenges. Using celebs makes an instant connection.

Finally, proof that politics can be fun. Did you see last week's press ad for the Tories announcing that "Today has been cancelled"? It's by Euro RSCG, which regular readers will remember scooped the Conservative party's ad account just at the moment when the fortunes of Gordon Brown and David Cameron flipped and the Tories suddenly stopped being the client that no one wanted.

Playful and confident, the ad took another dig at Brown's decision not to hold an autumn general election, and gleefully roll-called Labour's weak spots. If this is any sign of what's to come when a real election is called, we can look forward to political campaigns being entertainingly fought on an advertising battleground. Time for a Labour salvo I think.

Beale's best in show: stella artois (lowe london)

A new Stella Artois ad used to be anticipated with much dribbling by adland's creative community. Good, old-fashioned, budget-stretching blockbusters, they were advertising creativity at its lushest.

Then its parent company, InBev, had a marketing rethink, and pulled Stella Artois back under an advertising umbrella that also shelters Artois Bock and Peeterman Artois.

One result of this new approach is a spanking website; another is this new TV campaign for the Artois family. It's by Lowe London, the agency behind the stellar Stella oeuvre, and is set in that golden-tinged rural France of a bygone era that Stella has made its own.

The tagline is "Pass on something good". The villagers, gathered in the glow of the local pub, help each other out with little favours, spreading a tenderness around the room and echoing the "generations of care handed down in every glass".

It's warm and lovingly shot, but strip away all the resonance of past ads and it looks rather small compared to them. No doubt the new strategy will work well and prove more cost-efficient than the old; but adland will be all the poorer without the big Stella blockbuster.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'