OPINION: Mills on ... Snack Stop

The editor of the esteemed Today programme, Rod Liddle, is

apparently very cross with Geoff Capes. Why? Because the former Olympic

shotputter hoaxed him over an interview in July about the demise of the

great British takeaway shop. Nor was he alone: Radio 5 Live, The Sun and

The Mirror also ran the story.

In the Today interview, Capes, apparently fronting a lobby group set up

to save takeaways from extinction, debated in full seriousness the

nutritional values of takeaways. I heard the interview and remember

thinking that it was a bit of harmless summer fun, but a bit dumbed down

for Today. Who exactly was behind the group, and where was the evidence

that takeaway shops were under threat? The Today programme obviously

made no attempt to check these basics out and I'd guess that it's the

fact that he's been made to look like a fool that accounts for Liddle's

hissy fit.

Anyway, as Campaign has revealed (31 August), all this was a cunning

ploy dreamt up by McCann-Erickson to set the stage for this month's

relaunch of Snack Stop. This, by the way, is Nestle's attempt to grab a

bit of instant noodle market share from the likes of Batchelors.

I dare say the fact that the hoax was perpetrated in the cause of

something as trivial as an ad campaign for a fast-food snack has only

added to Liddle's vexation. Me, I'm just enjoying the way the nation's

most self-important broadcasting programme has been taken for a mug; few

sounds are so sweet as that of pomposity punctured, which is why a good

hoax is a joy indeed.

Ads based on hoaxes are as old as the hills. And, of course, it's a

legitimate and mostly harmless tactic. In this age of advertising

congestion, finding a way to give your campaign extra mileage and

resonance makes sense. No doubt, inspired by McCann's success here, we

will see more agencies give it a go.

Sometimes they backfire, however. By coincidence, Snack Stop is reviewed

in this week's Private View (p36) by Steve Dunn, the creative director

of Ogilvy & Mather, perpetrator of the "Lucky the lost dog" hoax for

Royal & Sun Alliance. Yes, that's the same Lucky hoax that the

Advertising Standards Authority stamped on last month. When I say

"reviewed", I use the word loosely. It is my impression that Dunn is

distinctly sniffy about the whole Capes business. From a man whose own

hoax ended up as a pile of metaphorical dog crap on his doorstep, this

seems churlish to say the least.

So why do some advertising hoaxes work and others fail? The answer, I

think, is plausibility and relevance. To succeed, any hoax has to be

rooted in truth. The Capes hoax worked because, as someone who looks

like he goes to the chippie twice a day, he was entirely plausible as

the front man for a campaign to save takeaways.

Was running a series of posters and national press advertising for a

lost dog - complete with freephone and website - plausible? Was it


As for relevance, the idea that instant pot snacks threaten takeaways

may not be original (I recall a BMP DDB campaign for Knorr that featured

chefs who feared for their livelihoods), but it is self-evidently true

and therefore relevant to the brand proposition. The connection between

a lost dog and a new virtual financial services company is at best

tortuous, at worst irrelevant. Having followed the Lucky trail through

to the end only to find someone trying to flog insurance, I felt


And that's the point: a hoax that leaves you feeling diminished is a

failure; one that brings cheer and charm is a success. Bit like

advertising really.

Dead cert for a Pencil? If there was a category for ingenuity.

Will it work? I liked the ad so I tried the product. Yeeurghhhh!

What would the chairman's wife say? Are you sure Geoff Capes is a good

role model for a fast food?