OPINION: Mills on ... Marmite

At first glance there isn't much in common between carpet shampoo and Marmite. But you'd be wrong: both live at the back of their respective cupboards, largely forgotten and used irregularly. You probably have similar products in your cupboards: tinned peaches or rinse additives that go in your dishwasher which, they claim, make your crockery gleam.

The task for creative agencies therefore is to get Marmite/carpet shampoo front-of-cupboard and front-of-mind where, fingers crossed, consumption will increase. It's a difficult task that demands creativity of the highest kind. Faced with just such a problem in the US on a carpet shampoo called Resolve, Euro RSCG MVBMS came up with an interesting idea: a plastic holster which attaches to your vacuum cleaner and holds a trigger-spray bottle of Resolve. Hey presto, Resolve is out from under the sink and a regular part of the household cleaning process. It's not advertising, and it doesn't scream "It's a gold, luv", but it's creative. Sadly, because it doesn't involve conventional creativity, it's the kind of thing agencies do all too rarely.

I don't mean to diminish it in the slightest, but Marmite, by comparison, has chosen to stick with a more standard route centred on TV advertising.

But the aim is the same: stimulate usage for a low-salience product. The key insight - that people either love Marmite or hate it - is, in its own way, an equally creative piece of thinking and absolutely central to the campaign. Interestingly, compared to the old Ogilvy "My mate Marmite" line, it is about as different as you can get.

In the latest execution, which broke last month, we see a lifeguard chewing contentedly on his sandwich when he is called into action. A swimmer is in trouble. Hauling him on to the beach, our hero gives the swimmer the kiss of life. Suddenly the swimmer, attracted by the taste of Marmite on the lifeguard's lips, starts kissing him back.

Not surprisingly, the tabloids have fallen on this story with glee and labelled it, with a little helpful PR puffery from Marmite, as the first ad to feature a gay kiss. Well, not really. At most it's a gay lite kiss. But then this is a slow news time of year and, sad to say, one should never underestimate the gullibility of fellow journalists.

Disappointingly for those who get hot under the collar about this sort of thing (from either point of view), the ad's gayness is merely a demonstration of the advertising proposition and not, as the press coverage would have us believe, a challenge to the Daily Mail or the censors.

And nor is it a brave attempt on the part of Marmite to target the gay community. They, one assumes, also feel exactly the same about Marmite as anyone else although, coincidentally, the term "marmite mining" - no prizes for guessing what that means - is in common usage among gay communities. I wonder whether the client was aware of that when he sanctioned that "shock gay kiss" PR. I suspect not.

Me, I think it's a wonderful expression of a compelling idea. It's certainly worked in the Mills household, where the jar is now at the front of the cupboard and has seen usage increase dramatically to, oooh, at least three times in the last week. That may not sound much, but it's three times more than in the previous six months. In fact, the only thing I find distasteful is the PR aspect: hyping up the gay kiss, which isn't really gay anyway, and then claiming that the last thing they want to be is controversial. It makes me want to complain to the Independent Television Commission. Pity they don't cover hypocrisy.

Dead cert for a Pencil? A reasonable chance of something.

File under ... H for hyped.

What would the chairman's wife say? "I suppose you rejected a lesbian

Baywatch script."