ITV 50 Years of Fame: Private view - Stella Artois

There's this Belgian beer advertising campaign, set in France and populated by a bunch of old peasants who are as far away from the target market as you could wish for.

The client won't be able to afford to run them frequently because they are two minutes long. The dialogue will be in French, and there won't be subtitles. All this to tell people how much more expensive their beer is compared with everyone else's (even though it is usually cheaper). Every ounce of common sense tells you that it just shouldn't work.

So let's go back 15 years to 1990. The line "reassuringly expensive" had been running in the press, but had never really taken off on TV. The brief was simple and Frank Lowe, in person, was going to brief us. He came into our office and said, "Stella: It's like an egg", and left. I still don't quite know what he meant.

So we wrote "Jacques" and treated Stella more like a wine than a lager (1). We wrote the dialogue in French (OK, so we thought Stella was French) and didn't subtitle it, but made the story easy enough to follow so that the viewer would flatter themselves that they too were connoisseurs of fine things.

Since then people sacrificing something they value greatly for a glass of Stella has been the subject of a dozen commercials (as well as a brilliant press campaign). Over the years, the budgets have got larger, the plots more involved and the ads have got longer.

It's hard to do any of these commercials justice in so few words because each is rich enough in character and plot to fill a whole short story.

It is down to the skilful writing and direction that they can be told in just 90 seconds. This may look easy but try explaining one of the plots fully and you'll see what I mean.

So rather than describe the ads, here are my all-time stellar Stella moments:

"Red shoes" is a beautiful pastiche of Michael Powell's film of the same name (2). The menage a quatre between the young man, grandmother, barmaid and pair of shoes is probably the most complicated of all the Stella Ads.

Yet all is revealed, explained and resolved in the last 15 seconds.

In "last orders", a dying man reveals his final wishes (3). The casting of the hero, old man and priest is outstanding. It also has probably the most thirst-making quaffing shot of any beer commercial ever.

Dying men are not often the subject of lager commercials but in "doctor", Stella is at its blackest (4). Imagine telling your client: "So, everyone shares the same glass of beer. Oh, by the way, they're all dying of The Plague." The subject matter is bleak but the doctor's cough at the end is the funniest moment of all the ads.

In "pilot" ... well, we've all just seen this one time and time again at the recent awards dos (5). An epic if ever there was one, heroes, villains, dog-fights, plane crashes, shootings, escape, honour, loyalty, thirst, betrayal, greed, pathos. Try sticking that in your average ad.

And, now in the latest offerings "ice-skating priest" (6) and the surreal "bench", Stella looks like a brand in search of pastures new: different music, but the same quality of film making and performance.

And like all great advertising, it works. From 1990, when Stella Artois was a slowly growing niche player with the occasional press ad, it is now, by value, Britain's second-biggest brand. It sells 33 pints every second. A brilliant advertisement for Advertising.

1. STELLA ARTOIS Title: Jacques Agency: Lowe Year: 1990 2. STELLA ARTOIS Title: Red shoes Agency: Lowe Year: 1997 3. STELLA ARTOIS Title: Last orders Agency: Lowe Year: 1998 4. STELLA ARTOIS Title: Doctor Agency: Lowe Year: 2002 5. STELLA ARTOIS Title: Pilot Agency: Lowe Year: 2004 6. STELLA ARTOIS Title: Ice-skating priest Agency: Lowe Year: 2005

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