Adwatch - No 110
Few things are more nauseating than advertisers disguising their attempt to shift units from supermarket shelves as some worthy, socially responsible cause.
Take this television commercial. It is shot in the style of a public information film or possibly a party political broadcast. A variety of people from all walks of life and of all ages share the recitation of a pledge.
We'll come back to the detail of the pledge in a moment. But the gist of it is that families will "spend more quality time together", sitting down to a meal together at least once a week, and "eating proper food with proper gravy."
I bet those people at Bisto are worried. If this catches on it could put them out of business.
Oh, hang on. The commercial is by those people at Bisto. And that 'proper gravy' is Bisto instant gravy granules.
For the benefit of any younger readers, 'proper gravy' is mostly a by-product of cooking 'proper food'. The vegetable juices are added to the meat juices and can be thickened with a little flour. Some people add brown colouring but this isn't really necessary.
In contrast, Bisto gravy granules contain:
Hydrogenated vegetable oil
Hydrolysed vegetable protein
Flavour enhancers (E621, E635)
Spice and herb extracts
Unless your kitchen doubles as a laboratory, there's a lot of stuff there that you wouldn't use to make gravy.
E150c, also known as Ammonia Caramel, is made by controlled heat treatment of sugar with ammonia.
E621 is better known as Monosodium Glutamate. Since some people are hypersensitive to it and can suffer palpitations, migraine, nausea and other reactions, it might be wiser to call it that on the packet.
E635 is Sodium 5 Ribonucleotides. There have been reports of serious reactions to this additive in some people although the regulatory authorities appear to regard it as safe. However, it is banned in some countries, including Australia.
E322 is Lecithin. Commercial Lecithin mostly comes from soya bean oil which may be GM.
Like many manufacturers, Bisto has reduced the salt content of its gravy (by 2% in 2005). But like many others it persists in calling it 'sodium' in the list of ingredients. To further confuse the layman, and the parent concerned about their child's salt intake, it says that each serving contains 0.21g of sodium but 0.54g of salt. I don't know if this is high but, although I like salt, I always find Bisto gravy excessively salty and it leaves me with a raging thirst.
So yes, I do have Bisto sometimes. That's why I had the list of ingredients to hand. It can be useful when you're not doing a roast meal but just having something like sausages and mash. But 'proper gravy' it isn't.
In the full version of the Family Pledge, that phrase has been modified to 'proper Bisto gravy' which implies there are people selling fake Bisto gravy on street corners or on Ebay.
The full pledge appeared in a four page pull-out in the Daily Mirror on 1st November. It was presented as an antique legal document.
I'm sorry to do this to you but here it is in full. Readers with weak stomachs should look away now.
"I the undersigned do solemnly promise to you my family, more quality time spent together as one. Catching up, chatting about the stuff of life, doing what families do. Which is why I make this pledge. To change my routine and set aside ONE NIGHT A WEEK where I leave work on time/come home on time and sit up at the table, eating proper food with a PROPER BISTO GRAVY.
TOGETHER WITH YOU, MY FAMILY, MY OWN.
And so henceforth, from this day forward, this night will be
Oh my God. I think I've just had one of those Monosodium Glutamate reactions - nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea.
And it doesn't exactly have the snappiness of 'It's Chicken Tonight' or 'I'm Lovin It!', does it?
One trade website said the ad might do more for family values than any politician could do in a lifetime. Well, leaving aside the fact that you'd have squandered a lot of family quality time if you were demented enough to read a four page supplement about gravy granules, the ad isn't going to do much for standards of literacy. There are fewer proper sentences in that pledge than in a Tony Blair speech. Then again, anyone who mistook Bisto for proper gravy would have difficulty recognising a proper sentence.
But I have to admit it's a heartwarming image: all those Bisto families sitting round a table chatting about the 'stuff of life'. But how many families have parents who are geneticists or molecular scientists?
And surely it should have said 'leave work on time AND come home on time'? That slash implies these are different options, a case of 'delete as applicable'. So you could leave work on time and still piss off to the pub for the evening, thereby avoiding the horrors of that 'Aarrgh Night'. If you're going to draw up a legal contract it's a good idea to get a lawyer to take a look at it.
The vagaries of search engines meant that, in researching this piece, I found a link to a small ad by a 'straight-acting gay man' calling himself the 'Bisto Kid'.
His ad was rather more succint than the four page extravaganza by Messrs Bisto.
He too was looking for quality time. I don't know if he found it but I can guarantee that I'm free of artificial colourings and flavourings, not excessively salty and with a high vitamin content. I can chat away about the stuff of life - before, after - even during in, if necessary. Now that's what I call an 'Aah Night'.