OPINION: Mills on ... McCain (and sayonara)

A solitary autumn leaf drifts down on to a railway line; a swimmer loses his trunks as he dives in; a bath overflows; a train is delayed; a red sock is caught in a white wash; a fishtank stands empty; a mobile phone is left behind on a bus ... yes, these are the "little" things that can really ruin your day.

These apparently unconnected images drift slowly by in a 90-second film by TBWA\London. The mood of melancholy is bolstered by the choice of music, as a modern version of the Nat King Cole classic Smile (Even Though Your Heart is Breaking) plays in the background. (By the way, Charlie Chaplin wrote the music, which just proves that comic geniuses really do exhibit a certain existential sadness.) Like the best WCRS Orange films, it's measured, stately, relaxing even, with absolutely no speech whatsoever. Hooray too because there's none of the freneticism and shoutiness of so much modern advertising.

Without being exactly arresting, the ad is intriguing, not least because it's so different from most of the stuff on the telly today. What, you wonder, could this be for? A bank? Insurance, like the CU's famous "we won't make a drama out of a crisis" ads? Perhaps a holiday?

Er, not exactly. It's for chips. That's McCain chips, as in the frozen variety, not Intel's Pentium X767777 or whatever, and you can't get more humdrum than that. The ad ends as dad and his son anxiously put a plate of chips in front of wife/mum, who's obviously had a hard day. "Chin up," the closing shot says.

Now your first reaction might be that this is all a bit over the top.

Whatever happened to ads featuring mum placing piles of chips in front of her hungry, lovable little monsters? Or white van men coming home after a hard day's work on the building site, mouths salivating at the prospect of chips?

But, in keeping with the mood of the film, this ad demands a little more considered thought. What it is doing is positioning the chip as comfort food. A bit like what CDP did for Hamlet. When you think about it, that's quite a change from the standard advertising fare of chip as near-instant snack/refuelling/food that brings the family together as they squabble over who's nicked who's chip. Instead of reacting to a family tragedy like the death of your gran by saying "cheer up love, have a cuppa tea", it's "cheer up, have some chips". What with microwaveable chips, it's quicker than a cuppa.

Of course, the fact that they're cholesterol laden and give you heart attacks only boosts their comforting qualities. Still, it makes you wonder why the likes of Heinz hasn't tried to grab what surely must be some fertile ground in this area when it comes to expanding the market. And chip as comfort food also conveys a certain integrity and weightiness on a brand such as McCain.

On the downside, you might argue that this ad is a generic for chips.

And so it is. Clearly, however, this territory - frozen chips - is one McCain is trying to own for itself. As far as I can see, it doesn't seem to be making a bad job of it. In last week's table of top 50 FMCG brands in Marketing, McCain's only serious rival in the chip category, Birds Eye, was nowhere to be seen.

Considering how Birds Eye was at one time the definitive frozen food brand, McCain must be doing something right.

On that note I take my leave of this column except, the editor permitting, as an occasional substitute. Pressure of the day job at Haymarket Towers is such that you, the readers, will be better off in the gentle, yet firm, hands of Campaign's deputy editor, Claire Beale, who takes over next week. Chins up.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Look, it's just a chip ad.

File under ... S for strategic.

What would the chairman's wife say? "That nice Ms Beale taking over? We

don't need comfort food. Bring on the Champagne."

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