ITV 50 Years of Fame: Private view - Asda

I think it's about time I came out of the closet. Some of my sports shirts are from Asda. As you recoil from the shock of this, let me also admit to owning a pair of Asda cord trousers for which I probably paid less than Sharon Osbourne usually tips her taxi driver.

There, I've said it. And oh the relief. I can pat my arse without shame.

And why not? Filthy rich or dirt poor, don't we all now demand quality at Asda Price?

Of course we do. And Asda knows it, even if the route to this realisation hasn't always been smooth. On the contrary, the journey from its origins in the mid-60s in disused cinemas and derelict out-of-town sites in the North of England to its present position as the UK bridgehead of the mighty US retailer Wal-Mart, has been punctuated by a few costly wrong turns leading to dead-ends.

Asda ads won't ever merit consideration by a Cannes awards jury. They're too hard-working and populist for that. And yet, in their own way, they have helped define supermarket advertising in Britain.

Asda did cheap long before Tesco, while its enlistment of celebrities to front its films pre-dated Sainsbury's "everyone's favourite ingredient" campaign.

What's more, Asda's strategy of putting the daily concerns of its customers at the heart of its TV work has the kind of authenticity that its erstwhile rival, Safeway, never quite matched.

Viewing the Asda reel makes you realise how its self-portrayal down the years mirrored social mores.

First out of the time tunnel is a museum piece from 1975, a fascinating reflection of a less sophisticated, more certain age (1). Set to a muzak-style soundtrack, the spot introduces us to Austin Allegro man. With a Stepford wife and 2.5 adoring children, this is a guy providing for a too-good-to-be-true, lower-middle-class family that needs to watch the dosh. No problem. The Mr Cholmondley-Warner voiceover (a strange choice since Asda had yet to break out of its Yorkshire heartland) claims shopping at Asda will save a family of four £72 a year. Blimey. You could have got a fortnight on the Costa Brava for that!

Having struggled through the 80s with a series of campaigns that were going nowhere, the launch of "tap tap" in 1992 (and the return to advertising roots set down 20 years earlier) suggests Asda was beginning to find its true identity (3).

By 1997, Asda had truly marked out its territory, taking the high ground over shoppers' suspicions about so-called "special offers" (2). "Permanently low prices for ever" was the unequivocal claim, while the bald man quizzically eyeing the cut-price shampoo adds a nice touch of humour.

My favourite commercial in this collection, though, is a 2001 spot featuring a young mum (4). Sukhi's family is a world away from the oh-so-perfect one created around Allegro man. She has a demanding baby whose eating style is spectacularly messy. She adores him but enjoys her time "to be me" thanks to clothes from George that won't bust her budget.

The film doubtless struck a chord in thousands of homes. It's a familiar message simply delivered, as is a spot from last year showing Asda staff at work. It illustrates the company's mission to take costs out of the business and re-invest them in price cuts (5).

Which brings us back to Sharon (6). Not your average, cost-conscious Asda punter to be sure, but tungsten tough and somebody you can bet wouldn't take kindly to a rip-off. I'd put my shirt on it.

1. ASDA Title: Simply a better way Agency: Publicis Year: 1975 2. ASDA Title: Prices Agency: Publicis Year: 1997 3. ASDA Title: Tap tap launch Agency: Publicis Year: 1992 4. ASDA Title: Sukhi Agency: Publicis Year: 2001 5. ASDA Title: Stay that way Agency: Publicis Year: 2004 6. ASDA Title: Sharon launch Agency: Publicis Year: 2005