I'm willing to bet that when FCA was folded into Publicis at the
end of last year, the latter agency's creatives weren't slavering at the
idea of getting their hands on the Harvester brief.
If there's such a thing as an advertising category that is atrocious by
definition, then the pub restaurant chain is stuck bang in the middle of
it. The sanitary towel sector has thrown up moments of subversive
humour, washing powders have attempted to break out of the "doorstep
challenge" stereotype, but through the years Harvester and company have
stuck stubbornly to their feeble marketing guns. As sure as farts follow
brussel sprouts, restaurant chains have been there, lazily serving up
unfeasible product shots that make the burgers in McDonald's ads seem
like reality TV.
To be fair, Harvester hasn't been content to lie unconvincingly to
It's gone further than most to serve up some of the finest turkey
By choosing The Christians' version of the song about global hunger,
Harvest for the World, as a backing track for its carrot close-ups, FCA
bravely plumbed new depths of inappropriateness.
Does Harvester care that its creative output has been consistently
garbage for years? I suspect not. The neanderthal "see food, want food"
approach that it's spearheaded seems to achieve the necessary awareness,
after all. Harvester is a comfortable number two in its category, behind
Brewers Fayre, catering ably enough for suburban families who want an
evening out once a month but can't afford to blow too much cash. All in
all, a comfortably naff public image would appear to rule out any
genuinely creative work on the account.
Things are changing, however. Last September, as FCA prepared to kiss
its existence goodbye, Harvester's parent, Bass Leisure Retail, was
earmarking a significant sum of cash for the chain's expansion.
It also began researching options for modernising the chain's
Could this mean the emergence of a different brief? A tasty relaunch
with lashings of credit to be had should Harvester's image be
It might have done, had Bass' modernisation plans not run into a problem
- the customers. When the chain suggested replacing peas with something
more avant garde, for example, they got a resounding "no" in return. As
a result, Publicis had to update the restaurant's image without updating
So the agency has ignored the grub and focused on the quality family
time of an evening out. This approach is nothing new. In the US, the
Olive Garden chain uses ads showing Italian Americans pinching each
other's cheeks and the line: "Da Olive Garden: when yoor here yoor
This works Stateside, but such a rose-tinted view of family life would
leave the UK throwing up. So Publicis has given the ads a Royle Family
twist, celebrating the awkwardness and lovable incompetence of British
families. It's produced two watchable ads and one, featuring shagging
apes, that's rib-tickling enough for the BACC to shove it behind the 9pm
All this is a welcome departure from Harvester ads of the past - and it
will probably do a job as far as awareness levels are concerned.
However, it also risks being spectacularly counter-productive. If you're
in one of the British families that dreads spending time together, then
an exhibition of tensions under the surface is hardly going to persuade
you to go and eat out - no matter how droll it may be. Like so much meat
in British restaurants, this might just be too close to the bone.