hard sell

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A middle-aged man in windcheater stands proud in front of his suburban house, holding his hosepipe. "Morris Valdi of Aldrich Crescent did it on Tuesday," purr the suggestive tones of Angus Deayton. "I did," confirms Mr Valdi. "Mrs Valdi is still in shock," Deayton tells us. "I'm in shock," Mrs Valdi concurs from her bedroom window.

Sex and food go together in advertising better than a horse and carriage. Think of Cadbury's famous Flake fellatio, or Clover's "spread for spread" ad in which vegetables aroused by a Charles Aznavour-ish Frenchman singing "Love Is In The Air" undress to be caressed by melting margarine. Then there are Bird's Eye cod fillets, for which the "hunky" frozen fish strip and strut on stage a la Chippendales, or British Meat's Food For Love ad, in which a chap wins over his sulking partner with his steaming steak sandwich. Sex is a kind of poor substitute for food in advertising - something this commercial for Bird's Eye's Pan Flair trades on.

So after the suburban Valdis, we're taken to the inner city and introduced to another couple who have "done it" - groovy twentysomethings Lorraine and Frankie (we know they're urban-groovy because she's got ironed blue hair and he's a skinhead in a pin-stripe suit). The punchline, flagged long in advance by the teasingly fruity-but-respectable Angus, is delivered when we are introduced to a 30-ish working woman: "Despite working late, Ms Kate Springs did it ... with Pan Flair." "It" turns out be be heating up frozen chicken and vegetables.

In case we should think Ms Springs did "it" by herself, in the last scene we see her standing behind her slightly dazed man, who is tucking into Pan Flair: "It was so good, Karl didn't believe it," says Angus.

But for all its double entendre, this ad plays as much as any other "sex" food ad on the consolation factor of foodstuffs. Sex is a poor substitute for food in adland, and also a poor substitute for love - at least in products aimed at women. Nobody doing "it" here is single - not even Ms Springs. Solitary pleasuring is not on the menu.

Like Cadbury's milk chocolate, which is always advertised by a young couple very much in love, advertisers of frozen food meals are keen to show it is never eaten by sad single people. This is the point - when you buy Pan Flair you don't buy a TV dinner. You buy love. So if you are a sad single person, you're more likely to buy the product, having been made sadder by this kind of advertising. And if you do have a man in your life, Pan Flair assuages any guilt you might feel at serving him a frozen meal - Pan Flair, you see, isn't cheating on your man - it's the very opposite.