CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - The danger of assuming old ones are always best

Ferrero Rocher is gambling on a revamp of that familiar campaign, Glen Mutel says.

Nothing brings advertising to the attention of the public like the resurrection of a classic campaign. Take Ferrero, for example. Last Tuesday, the Italian confectioner announced it was bringing back its Ambassador's Reception campaign, after four years. The next day, the papers were full of it.

In the week of Dirty Den's return to EastEnders, the re-emergence of the ambassador and his golden pyramid of chocolates was cheerily welcomed by nostalgic hacks from Canary Wharf to Kensington.

However, this is where the parallels end. If Den Watts symbolises all that was once good about EastEnders, the ambassador's reception represents everything from which today's ad agencies tried so hard to distance themselves.

The power of the original ad lay in its unapologetic awfulness - the laughable accents and the perverse dialogue made it memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The new campaign, by Ferrero's in-house agency, Pubbliregia, attempts to tap into this heritage without plumbing similar depths of tackiness.

Much has changed. The new ambassador's butler is younger, his soundtrack is slicker and he himself is now a she.

Making alterations to a classic ad can be dangerous - Birdseye's attempt to make Captain Birdseye younger, handsome and more clean-shaven was shortlived.

Getting people excited about a cheesy old ad is one thing. Getting them excited about a watered-down imitation of it is quite another.

The Clemmow Hornby Inge creative Tony Barry was the executive creative director at Lowe when the agency created and aired a montage of clips from old Milky Bar kid ads for its client Nestle. He says: "I can't really think of an example when bringing back an old campaign has been done well.

"I suppose it all depends how you do it. There is a danger of trying a bit too desperately to update the work. I wouldn't like to see Tony the Tiger brought back as a smoker who says 'bling' all the time."

Since Ferrero ditched "the ambassador's reception" in 1999, successive campaigns from Banks Hoggins O'Shea and Publicis have used humour to position Ferrero Rocher as the choice chocolate for social occasions. The ads were slicker and more subtle, although not nearly as memorable as the ambassador campaign.

Earlier this year, Publicis resigned the Rocher account in favour of Cadbury's. Ferrero's decision to revert to Pubbliregia and "the ambassador's reception" will coincide with the Christmas build-up period, crucial to boxed chocolate sales. The brand has a market share of 7.4 per cent, down on last year, and leaving Rocher behind the market leader, Mars Celebrations, with 12 per cent.

This season, Ferrero is planning to spend £3.4 million on advertising - more than rivals spend in a year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

With so much at stake, perhaps it's not surprising Ferrero is going with a campaign it knows will connect with viewers.

"It costs an awful lot to establish any kind of franchise with the viewing public," the Publicis chairman, Gerry Moira, says. "Everything is so saturated that ads tend to bounce off them. So if you've got something that's a hit, it's worth hitting them again with it."

Ferrero isn't the only company that subscribes to this theory. In July, Heinz showed four of its old ads again, as part of a Leo Burnett campaign in which viewers voted on whether the classic Beanz Meanz Heinz slogan should be ditched. The nostalgia connected, and the public gave the endline an overwhelming vote of confidence.

And this month, Grey updated a 22-year-old campaign for the St Ivel Gold brand, which is now part of Dairy Crest. The original commercial featured a diver launching from a diving board made of a butter knife. In the new ad, which was shot in the dunes of Namibia, the butter knife turns into a surfboard, faithfully recreating the look and feel of the original.

According to an NFO consumer awareness study, the original ad enjoys an awareness rating of 32 per cent, and the new one will no doubt be a hit with those old enough to remember its famous ancestor. But what about the younger viewer? Grey's account director Sarah Jenkins feels that St Ivel Gold's health message is the key. "This insight is just as relevant today as it was before," she says.

While clients such as St Ivel and Ferrero Rocher resurrecting past campaigns has logic, doing so has worrying implications for advertising agencies.

Why are so many old ads looked upon so fondly? What does this say about today's creative standards?

Barry feels old ads' popularity has more to do with their populist content than their quality. "Ads these days tend to be quite clever and they make you laugh," he explains. "I went to D&AD this year, but in years past I remember going and tapping my feet more and getting more emotional."

No-one would argue that the original "ambassador's reception" ad doesn't get people emotional. But it was that ability to induce extreme reactions from people that was the ad's strength. It's hard to imagine the new ad, stripped of all cheesiness, doing as well. Whether Ferrero shares this concern is unclear. The company refused to contribute to this discussion.

But even without Ferrero's input, one thing is for certain - if the new ambassadress can convince the public that a chocolate brand available in petrol stations, supermarkets and newsagents nationwide is the same brand that is eaten by diplomats everywhere, then she will be worth her weight in gold.

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