Their love affair captivated the country in the 1980s and we cheered when their lips finally met. No, not Charles and Diana, stupid Nescafes Gold Blend couple.
Their commercial break romance was a soap opera sensation, and when a new installment came out, very few took the commercial break opportunity to put the kettle on. However, one thing is certain: there would be no more excitement about it now.
is a dead art form and no one can enjoy the boring, infantile and irritating drivel that crosses our screens these days.
The first 30-second Gold Blend commercial, produced by advertising agency giant McCann Erickson, aired in 1987. Sharon Maughan knocked on her neighbor Anthony Head's door covered in diamonds to borrow instant coffee for her dinner party guests.
The flirtatious energy between them was instantly electric. “How can you ever thank me?” he asked, handing him the glass. “I'll try to think of something,” she murmured.
Nescafé Gold Blend, 1987
Sharon Maughan and Anthony Head kiss in a scene from a Nescafe Gold Blend coffee advert in 1987. The flirtatious energy between them was instantly electric
It caused a stir, with millions of viewers looking forward to every follow-up over the six years the campaign ran.
The climax of the affair sparked outraged reactions. Why? Because she called him in the middle of the night and woke him up with the cry: “I want to see you now.”[ital]!'
Why the urgency? Of course she had run out of Gold Blend.
What a contrast to the miserable advertising on screens and the internet today. Anyone under 40 will find it hard to believe that great commercials made national headlines or that people watched hours-long shows just to make sure they saw them because everyone would surely be discussing all the details the next day.
That era is over, destroyed by a number of factors: VCRs, streaming services, shrinking budgets… and, above all, the rise of political correctness.
In woke Britain it's impossible to imagine the Gold Blend series ever coming to our televisions. It’s just not “diverse” enough. Maughan and Head are far too well-spoken, wealthy, white and straight – and how dare they worry about running out of coffee during the cost of living crisis?
So many of the most popular commercials from the golden age of advertising in the 1970s and 1980s would be “inappropriate” today. Remember the slogans: “And all because the lady loves…”
NO! You can't say that now. According to The Guardian, the Milk Tray Man – a secret agent in a tight black turtleneck who broke into women's bedrooms to leave chocolate gifts – was a “creepy” and “sinister” stalker.
“The idea that a modern young woman is simply grateful for a box of chocolates,” one of the left-wing newspaper’s critics wrote in 2016, amounted to “psychological horror.”
The industry publication Marketing Week warned back in 2005 that advertising would be a doomed art form if creativity died.
They wrote that the main dangers are twofold: home recording technology that allows people to fast-forward during breaks, and our dwindling attention spans, reduced by cell phones and the Internet. Millennials couldn't wait 30 seconds to find out what an ad was about – let alone their TikTok-obsessed Gen Z successors.
This destroyed wonderfully opaque and impressionistic little masterpieces, such as the Benson & Hedges advertisements in which an Egyptian pyramid or a gold bar on the ocean floor was gradually revealed to resemble a cigarette wrapper. These were so sophisticated and stylish that they were applauded in theaters.
Benson & Hedges, 1978
A 1978 Benson and Hedges advertisement in which an Egyptian pyramid was gradually revealed to resemble a cigarette wrapper
as a short story also disappeared. Like a character in a silent film, a poor sap had to endure a series of humiliations before finding solace in a pack of panatellas.
Who can forget “Golf Bunker,” a 24-second gem produced to promote Hamlet cigars? A camera trained on the edge of a bunker records the increasingly agitated attempts of an unseen golfer – only his club was visible above the parapet – to free his ball from the sand.
Then, to the soothing soundtrack of Bach's Air On The G String, he gives up, we hear the sound of a match being lit and a cloud of smoke rises into view. “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet,” says the voiceover. Genius.
In the 1980s, humor was an essential element in most major commercials. Why? Just ask Sir John Hegarty, creative director of top 10 agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who fondly recalls an encounter with a clever market trader at London's Petticoat Lane market.
When he asked the silver-tongued Cockney the basis of his chatter, the super-salesman replied: “Governor, when they smile, they buy.”
Drinks advertisers commissioned some of the most controversial ads of all time, and Heineken's commercials were among the best.
One showed a girl with a polished accent taking reverse speaking lessons at a place called the School Of Street Credibility.
There, a Cockney teacher tries to get her to say the sentence: “The water in Mallorca doesn't taste the way it should.”
After several failed attempts to get his student to master the necessary glottis, he exasperatedly calls for liquid refreshment.
After a sip of Heineken, his protégé trots across the Mallorca line as if it were born to the sound of the Bow Bells. As the final slogan puts it: “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach.”
Not to be outdone, Kronenbourg has created some classics of his own, none better than the one featuring a certain 19th-century Austrian composer.
Frustrated at his inability to complete a piece, the tortured artist is lured to his local beer hall by a group of friends.
As he sits there, beer in hand, the barman calls out: “Hey Schubert, what about your unfinished symphony?” To which he replies: “What about my unfinished Kronenbourg?”
In fact, the quality of the commercials produced in the 1970s and 1980s was so high that the people who appeared in them could be made stars. Models Lorraine Chase and Paula Hamilton are two good examples.
Chase was cast in advertisements for Campari as a Cockney beauty wooed by a white-clad Smoothie.
“Well, you really came here from paradise,” says her smitten admirer. “No,” she replied in a thick southeast London accent, “Lu’on Airport.”
It so captured the public imagination that in 1979 it spawned a chart hit by a group called Cats UK called Luton Airport and Chase pursued an acting career that included a four-year stint in the ITV soap Emmerdale.
Paula Hamilton's big breakthrough came in 1987 with an advertisement for the Volkswagen Golf.
It shows her storming out of a stable, throwing her wedding ring into the mailbox, throwing her pearl necklace and brooch to a cat and taking off her fur coat – but keeping her car keys.
Volkswagen Golf, 1987
Paula Hamilton's big break came in 1987 with an ad for the Volkswagen Golf in which she storms out of a small house and throws her wedding ring back in the mailbox
“If only everything in life were as reliable as a Volkswagen,” was the slogan.
When Channel 4 awarded the advert, directed by photographer David Bailey, a place in its list of the 100 best TV adverts of all time, judges described it as “a sign that feminism has finally reached the ad men” .
These brilliant campaigns worked. They generated huge sales. This success, in turn, brought the most talented people into advertising.
The 1998 Guinness advert, part of the 'Good things come to those who wait' campaign. It featured surfers waiting for the ultimate wave to express anticipation of the perfect beer
John Lloyd, the television producer behind a range of successful shows from Radio 4's News Quiz to QI, Spitting Image and Not The Nine O'Clock News, was lured into the business – and found out , that it paid twice as much as a television executive's job.
The industry's other superstar alumni include Gladiator director Ridley Scott, who created the acclaimed Hovis ad “Boy and his Bicycle” in 1973 and the ominous Apple Computer ad in 1984, based on George Orwell's famous novel.
But perhaps the most epic advert of all was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who is currently wowing critics with his latest feature film The Zone Of Interest, which has received no fewer than nine Bafta nominations.
In 1998, he spent nine days in Hawaii working on a commercial for the Guinness “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait” campaign.
The ad focuses on a group of surfers waiting for the ultimate wave, a metaphor for the anticipation surfers feel as they wait for the perfect pint of Guinness to be poured.
When the desired wave comes, the crashing “white horses” transform into real horses and the voice-over quotes a reference to Herman Melville’s whale-hunting classic Moby Dick: “Ahab says, “I don’t care who you are, here is your dream.” “.'
One by one, the surfers fall off, leaving a single member of their group behind to catch the wave.
Miniature classics like this one – voted the best advertisement of all time – made brand names known forever.
Puppet Martians stopped promoting instant mashed potatoes 30 years ago, but surely more than half the country can still emulate his inimitable call: “For mash, there's Smash!”
Cadbury's Smash, 1974
Most of us who were addicted to television in the days of three channels and no Internet are still able to sing the jingles and remember the taglines of the biggest commercials.
“The French love the Piat d'Or.”
“Yorkie: This isn’t for girls.”
“In the customs war, Ryvita will help you win.”
As harmless as they were, none of it would be acceptable now.
The French family refused to welcome their daughter's nervous English suitor until he won them over with a bottle of Piat d'Or Plonk. Can we imagine our friends across the Channel being portrayed as so xenophobic today?
The Yorkie slogan “Not for girls” had a brief revival earlier this century when a young woman with a Tom Selleck mustache tried and failed to buy a bar from a suspicious store owner.
But the catchphrase was dropped in 2011 because it was (gasp in horror!) sexist.
And these days, Ryvita is no longer advertised as a weight loss aid, but rather as the perfect complement to high-calorie treats like chocolate spread. Claiming that the crispbreads can help people lose weight could be perceived as “fat shaming.”
In fact, the current Ryvita ads are symptomatic of the truly terrible promotions that fill every break. The best that can be said is that they are unforgettable. Many are frankly annoying, they are so cheap and trite, preachy and condescending.
The current – if you’ll excuse the pun – National Grid advertising is no better.
Above a collage of images showing a biscuit dipped in a cup of milk tea, a voiceover promises: “The major grid expansion will combine clean, affordable wind energy from out at sea with all the things you love, like a delicious cup Coffee.”
Great – who cares about the threat of regular power outages when there's no wind when we can get upset sometimes?
In some sales pitches you inevitably get what the Love Islanders call “the jerk”. Each promotional package includes a pair of incontinence pads or similar products, with a scientist in a lab coat pouring blue liquid over a pitcher to demonstrate how absorbent they are.
But many are even more tasteless. A Barclays advert promoting financial investment services ends with a comedian vomiting in the street after urging passers-by to try his bottles of hot chilli dip.
Who would have thought that this would encourage someone to trust their savings to the bank? And who would have thought we'd rush to use our Tesco loyalty cards after seeing an advert where shoppers get a rigid, manic, wide-eyed grin every time they swipe their club cards?
And then there is the emphasis on “diversity.” Every family in 2020s advertising land is so multi-ethnic and omni-gendered that it feels as if the performers are selected by a box-ticking algorithm – which perhaps is the case.
The culmination of this woke-by-numbers approach is a British Airways ad that appears to show all sorts of ethnicities and sexualities in a whirlwind of split-seconds against a backdrop of global tourist destinations.
If only they had tweaked their old slogan: “BA…the guards’ favorite airline.”
The problem with such strict diversity is that all displays are the same when they are uniformly different. And far from being inclusive, they make most of the population feel outdated or even unwanted.
Above all, modern advertisements lack humor. Half a century later, we still smile at the wonderful Cinzano Bianco sketches in which a calmly pompous Leonard Rossiter managed to spill Joan Collins' drink on himself every time.
Cinzano Bianco, 1978
Cinzano Bianco's 1978 sketch in which the calmly pompous Leonard Rossiter managed to spill Joan Collins' drink on her
And we remember the competing Martini commercial with expensive aerial shots (long before drone shots) of a paddle steamer yacht off the Italian coast and a glamorous couple kissing as fireworks explode. Always, everywhere and everywhere.
Compare that to the flat, static, monochrome advertising for Johnny Walker Whiskey today. Actor Jonathan Majors stands next to a barrel in a tweed jacket. “Tainted Love”, the soul hit by Gloria Jones, is playing.
He pops a cork into the barrel and the music stops.
“Damn good,” he declares, taking a sip.
The message seems to be: “If you like vintage scotch but not vintage music, drink this stuff.”
No fantasy. No style. No intelligence, no subtlety, no panache. Well, no thanks.