I spent many a childhood Saturday morning in the Victoria Centre shopping mall, the pride of the city when it opened in the 70s and still going strong today. Still dominating one end of the mall is a mega-sized Boots flagship store. Unlike the neighbouring John Lewis, or the Woolies down the road, the Boots store always seemed to have an other-worldly glow: something to do with the vast expanses of white decor, white-coated staff and ultra-white lighting.
To your nerdy author, the pristine rows of Clairol Foot Spas, Remington Microscreens and Braun Independent gas-powered curlers were strangely fascinating; mundane products transformed into objects of desire in this brave new world of brilliant white perfection.
This world was showcased in the Christmas ads, where shot after shot of covetable electrical items remind you of the materialistic delights to be found within (2). Essentially, these are all variations on the Generation Game conveyor belt sequence, teasing the viewer with all-too-brief glimpses of gadgets and gifts you'd never considered necessary until then.
A 1988 classic of this genre is "The 12 Days of Christmas", which replaces the usual lyrics with a roll-call of that year's goodies (1). For instance, in place of the traditional gold rings we have "five make-up tins". As a creative device, even in 1988, I expect this was as old as the hills, but as a convenient framework for listing an unconnected range of products, it does its job well.
Times change, of course, and for Boots the touchy-feely 90s led it to tone down the brightly lit utopia.
Instead, the retailer emphasises its softer side by featuring its services as well as its products (3). With the launch of the Advantage Card in 1997 came the opportunity to portray a Boots lifestyle. The launch commercial presents the card as the key to attaining consumer nirvana: a life of free treats, pampering and - the ultimate level - unbridled shopping.
If proof were needed that retail is our new religion, this is it.
More recently, Boots seems to have returned to its chemist's shop roots.
Rather than selling us consumer durables, or a new lifestyle for that matter, it's simply telling us why we should buy the bottles on its shelves.
So, with last year's Soltan sunscreen spot, we have a demonstration of the ageing effects of sunlight on our skin: youthful beach revellers turn into wizened old prunes right before our eyes (5). It's like those time-lapse films of fruit left out to shrivel in the sun, but with attractive people instead of peaches.
This year's trio of films switch demonstration for analogy. In the ad for baby lotion, we learn how a baby's skin is 30 per cent thinner than an adult's via the simple device of showing light glowing through a baby's translucent body, just as a torch beam shows pink through your hand (6).
It's a little surprising that it's taken Boots so long to focus on the one thing that sets it apart from the supermarkets and the discount stores: our enduring trust in the brand. Now my home team's found its winning style, I hope it sticks with it.
1. CHRISTMAS Title: The 12 Days of Christmas Agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce Year: 1988 2. CHRISTMAS Title: Christmas gifts Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 1999 3. ADVANTAGE CARD Title: Advantage Card Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 1997 4. NO 7 Title: Bank robbery Agency: J. Walter Thompson Year: 2003 5. SOLTAN Title: Skinscope Agency: Mother Year: 2004 6. BOOTS Title: Translucent baby Agency: Mother Year: 2005