OPINION: Mills on ... Rolo

One of my pet hates are those pointless PR-generated survey stories that pass for news. "New survey shows men think about sex every two minutes." "D-I-Y better than sex, B&Q survey shows." Yeah, tell me something I don't know.

You don't have to dig very deep to find out that, behind all these spurious surveys, someone is trying to sell us something. There must be thousands of these damned surveys going on every week. But have you ever met anyone who's ever been asked a question for one of them? Of course not: they make them up, don't they?

So when I read newspaper reports last month that seven out of ten women think humour is four times more important than romance in a relationship, there was something entirely predictable about the fact that it happened to be based on a "survey" for Rolo. Equally predictably, the attendant PR round this apparently little-known fact has been used to kick off a new campaign for Rolo, and to justify the axing of the famous "do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?" line, which has clearly been ruled old-fashioned and therefore in need of contemporisation.

What a shame. I liked the line, not least because it was based on the romantic gesture and the joy of sharing, ideas all too rare these days.

This is especially true in snack and confectionery advertising, where so many campaigns are based on the inflated premise that product X is so good you'll scoff the lot yourself, thus justifying selfishness. By dint of that difference alone, Rolo stood out.

The basic premise could also, on occasion, be put to a higher moral purpose, as demonstrated by the Cannes gold winner in 1996. A child watches a parade of circus elephants. As a baby elephant passes, the boy offers and then withdraws his last Rolo. We move forward 25 years and the boy, now grown up, is again watching a parade of elephants and munching on his Rolos. The baby elephant is also grown up, and as it passes by it whacks him with its trunk.

The same sense of purpose and subtlety is conspicuous by its absence in some new Rolo ads through J. Walter Thompson, where the "discover the power of the last Rolo" line is used to set up a series of "embarrassing" dares, the reward for which is the gift of the last Rolo. In one a woman walks round the office with her skirt tucked into a pair of mauve Bridget Jones-style big knickers; in another a woman finishes a serious-looking office meeting by inviting the participants to join her in letting their inner beasts out; and in a third a woman stands up on a crowded tube and sings Since You've Been Gone by Rainbow - surely worth more than one Rolo.

And that's it, apart from the fact that, in that fashionably interactive way, consumers are invited to submit their own dares to www.rolo.co.uk, the best of which, Nestle claims, will be made into ads.

Leon Jaume described these ads recently as Jackass-Lite, which was quite kind since he could also have pointed out that they share a remarkable similarity with the whole "guys-and-girls-havin'-a-laff-and-playing- hilarious-jokes-on-each-other" style of advertising also represented by the likes of Reef, Smirnoff Ice and WKD. Does that mean that they're aimed at the same demographic? It's funny once, tedious thereafter.

Here's the paradox. Nestle says Rolo needs updating, yet in its pursuit of the contemporary it's replaced romance, which is timeless, with a particularly transient style of humour. And what happens when the next "survey" says romance is back?

Dead cert for a Pencil? Sure; best use of PR to post-rationalise a tired


File under ... U for unoriginal.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Be romantic then ... make me