Monday, September 15, 2008

The Hovis Identity

In between reading Penelope Fitzgerald - brilliant - and dreaming idly of bankers' bodies swinging from the lamp posts of Notting Hill - only a matter of time -  I have been pondering the new Hovis ad. It is a montage of historical events: Titanic, suffragettes, World Wars I and II, a Mark I Cortina and so on. All are experienced by the running boy with a loaf under his arm. Of course, this is just a way of saying the Hovis loaf goes back a long way. But it's the pay-off that intrigues. The mother calls, 'Is that you home, love?' The boy responds 'Yeah' with evident satisfaction. The word 'home' is made ambiguous - he is back in the house, but also he is at home in this history.  American advertisements are full of the joy of being at home in America, but British advertisers don't usually risk it for the simple reason that we don't feel at home in our history. But this boy is at one with the doomed tommies marching off to the trenches and the pithead confrontations of the eighties. Is this a change of heart or just another loafload of killer carbs?


  1. i seem to recall that the amount of yeast in bread was tripled in the 60s for the same reason chickens are pumped full of antiobiotics. If so, the ad should have an abrupt caesura in the 60s scenes, to indicate that post-60s bread isn't exactly bread anymore.

    PF is a great and strangely obscure writer, i suspect because it's often hard to say what her books are about, exactly.

  2. What makes you think advertising folks have hearts to change? Anyway, it's not history to the boy. It is life, the only life he knows, running wild like the young Ballard in Shanghai. So whatever the ad may say about history to us, a sneaky message is that Hovis is "real bread" for some. Buy Hovis for your kids as it will help them to enjoy "real life". In reality (imho), Hovis is pretty grim industrial gloop and isn't proper bread at all. For that you need a baker.

  3. I think you've got that about right.

    Even the recent history failed to snag a nerve. I remember sitting in the cinema amidst a crowd of middle-class Saturday evening types who felt very comfortable and smug with the miner's strike packaged for them as am incidental backdrop to a frigging ballet. The advert does the same, it shows how the commercial mainstream are able to utilise and 'manufacture' a version of history that is sanitised and comforting far more quickly than was the case when the main vehicle of historical discussion and debate was the written word.

  4. What actually happen to bread was that in the 1950s Baker Perkins along with the other major food production machinery manufacturers designed and built systems to mass produce the dough, bake and then final prove it and then slice and wrap it. This process machinery was the ultimate in mechanical engineering complexity, without the aid of electronics.
    To achieve this the machinery manufacturers had to specify the end products make up, the end product was tailored to suit the machinery that made it. The cost benefits were so huge that the bread manufacturers spent millions on marketing their new, inferior products.
    The marketing people then did what marketing people do best, lie, lie, lie through their teeth.
    The fact that the bread was pre sliced was marketed as (wait for it) the greatest thing, sliced bread.

  5. A shame, I feel, that they didn't make a series of the various stages: it's over too soon...