Peter York On Ads: Forget about flowers and chocolates. Marmite is the new token of affection

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The Independent Online

Been trading up recently? You have, haven't you? You'll be squawking that you're too rational, too busy and too socially concerned for any of that. But go through the fridge – come to think of it, what about the fridge itself? I bet it's bigger than its predecessor. Some of you have will even have bought an American-style side-by-side fridge freezer, the size of a Victorian wardrobe and sheathed in glowing stainless steel. And inside: any Ben & Jerry's? Any double-priced organic veg ? And did you really buy extra-virgin 10 years ago?

Now take this simple test. How many designer brands can you name? More than you knew 10 years ago? How many are represented in your wardrobe? Not necessarily at the party dress/smart-suit level but as accessories. Did your beloved give you underwear with a smart name? Agent Provocateur, Calvins, Hugo Boss? Even before gusset anxiety spoke its name, was someone in your house thinking they'd feel better in added-value pants?

Have you got a Beemer, an Audi, a Saab or a Volvo that replaced a Ford, Vauxhall, Rover or Nissan? Many Brits have. Your first Beemer. A particularly nice smell of leather. Something rather plain but satisfactory about the interior. And that lovely enamel wotsit in the middle of the steering wheel. A moment of quiet "because I'm worth it" pride.

We have, most of us, been trading up over the past 10 years. Everyone knows about the global luxury brands, but there's been another distinct trend – the one towards little-treat brands and the trading up of formerly rather dull utilitarian sectors.

Every supermarket has those little-treat brands, selling at surprising multiples. Green and Blacks chocolate (now owned by Cadbury) tastes nicer, has smarter, more grown-up lines, less industrial-sounding ingredients and higher prices.

Then there's ice cream. Häagen-Dazs (a clever Scandi-sounding name invented by Americans in 1961) was bought for its Euro-sounding sophistication by the kind of Americans who first bought those Mercs and Beemers, while Ben & Jerry's (now owned by Unilever) brought a post-hippy sensibility to bear. Buyers saw the brand as saying all-natural, organic and Fairtrade.

Or Covent Garden Soup, with its overtones of real markets and Eighties new culture, as well as smarter-sounding formulations (plum tomato and basil, not cream of tomato), more genuine-sounding ingredients and higher prices.

A bit difficult, however, to put Marmite in the roll call of 21st-century added-value little luxuries. Marmite – like that other little black-jar job, Bovril – is so much a Mark 1 staple-of-Empire brand, so much part of the Edwardian world of enamel advertising signs, the history of grin-and-bear-it industrial food. It's difficult to see it as luxury anything, let alone a love token. So when it appeared with a golden cherub, rose petals and champagne a few weeks back, I assumed it was a spoof. How could you add champagne without compromising its compelling nastiness.

The music track was very like "Je t'aime", which made it even more unlikely. I waited for the needle slipping loudly in the groove, the return to the boot camp – those cliché break-points of spoofing. But according to the PR coverage, it was all deadly serious – a consciousness-raising, tone-raising brand extension. Apparently they did Guinness last year. You'd think all that yeast would get your darlings foaming up in unexpected places.

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