ITV 50 Years of Fame: Private view - Birds Eye

"Help yourself, me hearties, while I have a word with your mum."

With these words, the nation was introduced, during the first summer of love, way back in 1967, to a genial, bearded naval man in a rowing boat (1). He might have looked like a public nuisance on your local ornamental lake - but he was to become one of the most enduring advertising icons of all time.

And he was an icon with a difference.

Because, when we won the business in 2000, one of our insights was that the great captain actually represented a strong female icon - he was a mother-figure. If you think that sounds far-fetched for a man with a full face of hair, you have to consider what went wrong when another agency tried to make the captain a young, sexy hunk.

It failed horribly.

The captain has always been about caring, feminine, maternal values - and so has the brand itself.

Witness the wonderful mini-soap-opera that was Ben and Mary (6). These were two irresistible ten-year-old sweethearts - she was all can-do, feet-on-the-ground Northern practicality, he was all tousled, roguish charm.

The nation took these two into their hearts and the story only ended when Ben moved to Australia. Quite probably because his testicles had dropped by then and he was growing a beard of his own.

This winsome couple was followed by Patsy Kensit popping her fingers in her mouth to simulate a freshly popped pea-pod (2). Whether Liam ever asked her to perform the same trick, history does not record.

But yet another shrewd bit of advertising iconography led to such commercial success that 1.7 million people eat Birds Eye frozen peas every day. Which makes Birds Eye a bigger expert on frozen peas than Paula Radcliffe running a marathon in Reykjavik.

By the 70s, Birds Eye was known for goodness and convenience. In the 80s, it added an extra element - fun: in 1981, a genuinely funny ad with Muhammad Ali being beaten up by his mum (3) and, in 1983, a genuinely hugely annoying ad with the catchiest jingle ever recorded (4). "Waffley versatile" proved more memorable or catchy than any of our entries to the Eurovision Song Contest. There's a theory the Crazy Frog ringtone was inspired by this ad.

In the 90s, HHCL created a soap opera for ready-made meals based around two teenage lads, one of whom fancied the other one's mum. This might seem dark territory for the innocent world of Birds Eye - but it was mightily successful.

And in 2005, we seem to have come full circle. A new campaign from BBH builds on the wholesome, caring credentials of this super-brand (5) - and so does the latest ad featuring the captain. (With a poignant message about kids and additives.) Birds Eye is about trust. And these days mums want more than just "fun" food - they want genuinely good food.

While all around us the world has gone mad, we've never had more need of a food brand we can trust - like we trust our mums. Even a mum who wears her cap at a jaunty angle, salutes strange men and knows her slip knot from her granny.

Tradition tells us of the great naval triumvirate of rum, sodomy and the lash - but Birds Eye has brilliantly changed this to ... mum, sodomy and the lash. (OK - I lied about sodomy and the lash.)

1. BIRDS EYE Title: Captain Birds Eye Agency: Lindhurst Year: 1967 2. BIRDS EYE GARDEN PEAS Title: Garden peas Agency: Lintas Year: 1977 3. BIRDS EYE BURGERS Title: Muhammad Ali Agency: Lintas Year: 1981 4. BIRDS EYE POTATO WAFFLES Title: Waffley versatile Agency: McCann-Erickson Year: 1983 5. BIRDS EYE BRAND Title: Supermarket Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty Year: 2004 6. BIRDS EYE BURGERS Title: Ben and Mary Agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce Year: 1976

Become a member of Campaign from just £51 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content


Five steps to smashing that interview


Future favours the brave