OPINION: Mills on ... Fox's Biscuits

For those of you who missed Campaign's conference on creativity

this week, HHCL's Steve Henry made a stimulating point. If he will

forgive me for a brutally short summary, it was this: as consumers

become more empowered, so social and commercial behaviour are today

inextricably linked. Advertising must move on from creating pure demand

to creating responsible demand. Responsible demand is that which has an

ethical context and a moral dimension.

Of course, you can interpret this in many ways, but I bet Henry would

approve of the latest Fox's Biscuits ads (Campaign, 18 May) from St


As you would expect from St Luke's, the basic campaign idea has a Moral

Dimension. It also, to revert to adspeak, has a Big Idea. This is that

Fox's biscuits bring people together and restore fractured


The ads add a further twist of contemporaneousness by demonstrating the

paradox of modern-day society: that people who rely on modern

communications technology lose the ability to communicate face to face.

Thus in one ad a woman can't communicate with her husband except by

mobile phone; in another, a computer games nut can't deal with the real

world; and in a third an office worker's dependence on e-mail and the

internet means he can't communicate with his colleagues.

The problems are resolved by a Fox's worker who offers biscuit


The hapless individuals are encouraged to use biscuits - the ultimate in

low-technology - to rebuild their social skills. Eat biscuits! Don't be

a social outcast! See how Fox's is good for society! Ethical, moral,

responsible ... I think we can say it ticks all those boxes.

Moreover, and I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear me say this of St

Luke's, it's an especially New Labour sort of ad. By that, I mean it

taps into a line of thinking that is currently exercising both the

chattering classes and Labour bigwigs (the same people, come to think of

it) greatly.

The idea, that society is on its deathbed, is expressed in the book du

jour entitled Bowling Alone, by Professor Robert Putnam of Harvard.

Putnam's thesis - for which he uses bowling as a metaphor - is the

disintegration of US civic life because everybody's too busy watching TV

or being an individual to join scout troops, school governing boards and

so on. So impressed has Labour been with this book that Putnam was

invited to address a seminar in March at no less a venue than Number 10.

Of course, at 514 pages, Putnam's book examines the phenomenon with

somewhat more intellectual rigour than the Fox's ads, but I'm sure you

get the point. (It is, I'm sure, pure coincidence that Fox's is a

subsidiary of Northern Foods whose chairman, Lord Haskins, is a big

Labour supporter and donor).

None of this would matter a jot, however, if the ads were bad.

After all, imagine telling a Fox's factory biscuit packer that the ads

hadn't worked and their jobs were on the line but, hey, never mind

because the campaign did at least have a Moral Dimension.

I, however, love the ads. They're fast, they're witty, they're sharp,

they're absolutely true to the product insofar as biscuits are an

inherently social product, and they have resonance on a wider scale

(see, I agree with Putnam and Henry).

There is, however, a flaw and if I were a Fox's biscuit packer I might

be having sleepless nights. That is because the ads are a generic for

biscuits. The message that biscuits promote social interaction and bring

people together is something that applies to any biscuit, not just a

Fox's: Ginger Nuts, Digestives, Rich Tea (see, all McVities' brands),

even Garibaldis. I don't believe that that is a territory Fox's can

uniquely claim to be its own. I hope I'm wrong though, because these ads

deserve to succeed.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Doh! St Luke's doesn't do awards.

Will they work? A Crinkle Crunch and a cuppa? Fab.

What would the chairman's wife say? Who ate all the Fig Newtons?

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