ITV 50 Years of Fame: Private view - Royal Mail

If it is possible to define a brand's character by its advertising, Royal Mail's reveals quite a journey.

First up is "spider", from the "I saw this and thought of you" campaign (1). A joyful slice of schlock horror action sees an off-screen sender spot a scary joke spider in a magazine ad. They send one to a mischievous boy. In his mind's eye, the lad sees his terrified grandmother, complete with electro-shocked hairstyle and reverberated scream, shaking at the plastic monster. With its cartoon-like art direction, simple message and quirky soundtrack, this is a mini work of art. With no competition in the market, this ad contained no brand promise - just an invitation to send stuff through the post.

"Parental advice", from the "Nothing gets through like a letter" campaign, positions mail against text and e-mail (2). In the voiceover, a down-to-earth dad explains why, when his teenage daughter starts college, the only form of communication he trusts to connect with her emotionally is a letter. Your frivolous communications can be texted or e-mailed, but if it's really important, you put pen to paper.

The Commonwealth Games 2002 special range of stamps ad (4) sets a series of appropriate stamp designs against a rousing, powerful poem about one woman's struggle to overcome adversity. ("I feel the butterflies in my stomach" is voiced over a butterfly stamp. "I will savour every drop" over a stamp featuring a tap, and so on). The climax is a Commonwealth Games stamp showing a photo-finish rendered in gold as the soundtrack cuts to silence for a second, leaving the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end.

Next, we see a self-confident Royal Mail getting to grips with its purpose.

Big brands need big personalities, and you can't get much bigger than Sir Elton John. In "Elton John", from "the real network" campaign, the self-confessed shopaholic cites Royal Mail as the perfect brand to deliver the goods. This was a convenient launch pad for Sir Elton's I Want Love single, but symbiotic relationships such as this are based on a equality - you need to be a big, confident brand to play with big, confident superstars.

A change of marketing strategy sees Royal Mail targeting its business customers. "Everyday" (6) shows the scale of the Royal Mail's operation (80 million items a day), the breadth of the B2B offering (letters, parcels and Special Delivery) and explains how the brand supports businesses.

Special effects take you seamlessly from high above busy streets, into the back of the Royal Mail van, before delivering you safely into the customer's hands. You can tell a man by the company he keeps, and Royal Mail namechecks Barclaycard and Amazon in this treatment, thereby ranking itself alongside the biggest and best brands in the country.

"Barriers" (5) focuses on the human side of the business; we see postmen and women overcoming floods, traffic and dogs to make their deliveries.

But instead of delivering envelopes they are delivering the words "vital", "surprise" and "love". And here's where the brand journey currently stands - from the far off days of asking consumers to send each other gifts, Royal Mail now presents itself as a modern communications company, a vital business partner to Britain's blue chips and the bedrock upon which new industries are built. And still, we hope, a much-loved national treasure.

1. ROYAL MAIL Title: Spider Agency: Bates Dorland Year: 1997 2. ROYAL MAIL Title: Parental advice Agency: Bates Dorland Year: 2001 3. Royal Mail Title: Elton John Agency: Bates Dorland Year: 2001 4. ROYAL MAIL Title: Commonwealth Games Agency: Bates Dorland Year: 2002 5. ROYAL MAIL Title: Barriers Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO Year: 2004 6. ROYAL MAIL Title: Everyday Agency: Bates Dorland Year: 2002