HARD SELL : Shredded Wheat
Tuesday 15 August 1995
What has happened to the Yorkshireman in advertising? Once the archetype of virility, as in the Seventies' Tetley Bitterman, he is now an object of sadistic derision.
Take Geoff Boycott in the current TV commercial for Shredded Wheat. "In 1977, when I were playing for England, I wouldn't settle for second best," he drones in his no-nonsense, colourless way. "Nothing's changed." Of course it hasn't. "I still insist on no added salt and no added sugar. Just 100 per cent 'wholewheat'." And the gritty man tucks into this gritty cereal in his cricket whites.
Naturally: Shredded Wheat has been marketed for years as a cereal that embodies the masculine virtues. Nothing added, nothing taken away. What you see is what you get - the very soul of the Yorkshireman.
But Geoff is wrong - things have changed. Advertising isn't content to exploit stereotypes these days; it feels a need to mock them as well. Hence Shredded Wheat looks suspiciously like it's also sending poor Geoff and his Ilkley Moor lads up. This suspicion is confirmed by the fact that - in the same ad - he is followed by a dotty woman in pink who thinks she's Carmen Miranda, dancing around her kitchen shrieking "And now there's Shredded Wheat Fruitful! Full of exciting fruit pieces!" while the screen explodes with coconuts and the like. Coming after Geoff's celebration of dour pride, this is nothing short of sacrilege. Nothing added or taken away? Then how come Shredded Wheat is now available in drag?
The humiliation of the Yorkshireman doesn't end with Geoff. Thomson's Waterseal sells itself with a scruffy, unshaven tyke standing in front of a brick wall in the rain (without raincoat, of course). He shouts at us: "You think your wall's safe as 'ouses. But you're wrong. Water's attacking it right now. Spend a few quid on Thomson's or a few 'undred on repairs. It's oop to you."
Like Geoff, the tyke here represents a straight-talking, hard-hitting, no-frills, indispensable, masculine product. And like Geoff, he's also, deliberately, a caricature whose butch understatement is so hopelessly excessive that it's screamingly funny. Yorkshireman RIP: Rest in Pieces.
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