Peter York On Ads: Nowt sells as well as Northern vowels and a warm bakery
Sunday 04 November 2007
It's quite a thing being eponymous. It raises all sorts of expectations. If you're a Miss Cadbury or a Master Heinz, do people project the brand on to you? The 19th-century Midlands Quaker high-mindedness of the Cadbury's or the Pittsburgh 57 varieties. People think you might still work in the business and you can influence the choccie bars or the baked bean sauce. Or they might think you're astonishingly rich and don't need a job.
With family-owned, family-run companies based in company towns, the name is the big, if not only, employer; the big patron and sponsor – the stuff of a Barbara Taylor-Bradford novel – it all hangs heavy on the family members.
They have to behave themselves. If they don't, they have to pack off to London or New York and keep quiet about it.
One of the peculiarly English things about all those 19th-century family successes was how, after about three generations of money, with a title acquired or imported by marriage, so many of them upped sticks and moved South from wherever and joined the upper classes. Out of trade and into the Army or the Professions – or, at the extreme, into the Arts. It became hard to find a family member to run the show and eventually it would decline, be floated or acquired. And the family would go tottering gently by, transformed over a 100 years from enterprising entrepreneurs into pleasantly decaying Sloanes.
But the Warburtons, fifth- generation bakers from Bolton, go on and on. Their advertising is eponymous to the max – Mr Jonathan and Mr Brett Warburton feature in their commercials in a 'Being John Malkovich'-y way. You don't see them but they do the voiceovers. What you do see are the Warburtons being Part of the Community. Northern, of course.
They can't move without people coming up to them and saying things like, "aren't you Derek Warburton's lad?", when strolling around the Lake District. The dialogue – more Northern camp, a lot of young Southern creatives like to slip into Alan Bennett – is all about Warburton's lovely milk loaves and whether they do their baking on a laptop now. The latest commercial has our Mr Jonathan in the cinema, where he's accosted by a shaven-headed enthusiast out with his kids who launches into surreal product development ideas. A two-foot-long loaf for football teas and choir schools. He can't move without people recognising him.
The story is that these fifth-generation Warburtons are still awfully close to the ovens and to Bolton – they haven't deserted for Belgravia. It romances the business history and the product. And against every snobby Southern judgement, the milk loaf and the football team one do sound lovely in an early-to-bed way. And the frame of the magical process – a loaf rising and browning in the oven – gets you every time, of course.
How do you talk about industrial baking at scale? You can introduce mild humour and modest celebrities – Mel and Sue for Kingsmill. You can use heavy-gauge history – just think of that '70s sepia Hovis commercial with its steep Edwardian street, a fixture in all the Top 100 commercials lists. You can talk about the product – its wholegraininess or its child-friendly crusts. But if you've got a full house (I want to see a picture of Warburton Manor near Bolton, built 1906 in a turreted style, I hope) of brothers slaving away at the bakery then you've scooped the pool.
Do you qualify – and how do you get it?
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