Love loses out to cheap laughs and harsh reality

Nestlé’s decision to drop Rolo’s 23-year-old slogan ‘Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo’ proves that romance is all but dead, laments Iain Murray

Nestlé’s decision to drop Rolo’s 23-year-old slogan ‘Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo’ proves that romance is all but dead, laments Iain Murray

So that’s it then. Romantic love is a thing of the past. No more moon and June and spoon. No more comparing thee to a summer’s day. No more brief encounters or lingering looks. No more tender sighs, no more empty yearning, no more drinking to forget. Gone is the tenderness, and with it the fire of passion. All that remains of the age of romance are wind blown ashes and scornful laughter.

How foolish they look, those wild and besotted lovers of legend. Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Dante and Beatrice, Abelard and Heloise, Jack and Vera, Horace and Doris Morris of Eltham. How silly it all seems. The holding hands, the whispering sweet nothings, the vase hurled at head height.

The curtain came down on the whole silly charade last week with the news that Rolo’s famous slogan “Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?” is being dropped after 23 years because Nestlé says it is too romantic to reflect modern relationships. If I may for a moment allow a personal note to intrude, I have always considered Rolo a particularly sickly confection, fit only for soothing a recalcitrant horse, but that is not to deny the warmth of the slogan and its power to evoke a lost era. Sad, then, to see its passing.

And to what do we owe this rift with the past, this summary sentence handed down on moonlight and music and love and romance? Why, the focus group, of course.

Yes, somewhere in a housing estate in a town near you, a representative panel of consumers, men and women, short and tall, fat and fatter, were brought together under the gimlet eye of a moderator and questioned about romance. And what was their verdict, these assembled wiseacres of the suburbs, with their live-in partner persons? The thumbs down. Left with a solitary Rolo, their thoughts would not turn to their nearest and dearest, for their nearest is not their dearest. They would sink deeper into their groaning sofas, pop the chocolate coated caramel in their mouths, and be done with it.

A spokesman for Nestlé summed up: “Research shows that romance is not the most important thing in a modern relationship. It’s time to move on.” And so a 23-year-old relationship is ended. Was any lover as cruelly dumped as that loyal slogan?

Like the man says, hey-ho, time to move on. But to what? Well, Rolo’s ads will feature an office girl flashing her knickers as part of a dare to get one of the sweets. Was there ever a finer paradigm? Out goes romantic love and in comes a quick schoolboy snigger. That’s modern advertising for you. No wit, no style, no flair, just a flash of gusset.

There is, of course, something deeply disturbing in this ad. The Nestlé spokesman may be determined to turn his heel on the past and move on, but he is, in truth, moving backwards to a lamentable, dark era when women were sex objects and there were such things as “office girls”. Had he really wanted to strike a contemporary note, his ad would have featured a half-witted male flashing his Y-fronts for a dare, getting tangled in his trousers, and falling over a waste paper basket, all under the cocked eyebrow of his hyper-intelligent female boss.

Even if we were to concede that romance was overdone, that, in the words of that matchless lyricist Lorenz Hart, “when love congeals it soon reveals the faint aroma of performing seals” there is something comforting in a myth. No one believed that a man would risk his neck riding on the top of a train, scaling a mountain peak and leaping rooftops because the lady loved Milk Tray, but it was comforting to think it might be true. Perhaps no one ever gave up his last Rolo because his girlfriend would like it, but the notion that he might have done evokes a deeper response than that prompted by an office girl lifting her skirt for a bet.

Thank heaven, then, that one man wants to preserve a myth. Philip Rumbol, brands director of Interbrew, the owner of Stella Artois and Boddington’s, has had enough of the brutally factual advertising of beer. Ads, he says, that portray beer drinkers as pot-bellied, ill-mannered louts are succeeding only in putting off customers.

Unlike Nestlé, Interbrew would turn back the clock to a romantic era, to a lost Arcadia when pubs were cosy places, peopled by convivial souls; when salt-of-the-earth barmaids pulled pints with a cheery cry of “coming up, love”; when a sign over the bar read, “Of course the beer’s cloudy. What do you expect for one and fourpence, thunder and lightning?”; when the only music was that of an upright piano accompanying a closing-time sing-song of “Roll out the Barrel”; when there was beer and skittles, and dominos and darts, and pickled eggs and arrowroot biscuits, and the corrugated iron urinals rattled to a timeless rhythm of expended excess.

Rumbol is right. You can take realism too far. When romance is a flash of underwear, and the age-old craft of the brewer is a pot belly, something interesting and valuable has gone from our lives, namely the hope that there is a softer, warmer side to humanity than that depicted on a daily basis by focus group clever dicks.

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