How Hovis’s 1973 ad ‘The Bike Ride’ kickstarted its route to household name

‘The Bike Ride’ is the UK’s favourite ad from the 1970s, and both Hovis’s marketing director at the time and director Sir Ridley Scott believe its enduring success is down to its nostalgic charm.

hovis

Creating advertising that resonates in consumers’ minds for 40 years is a trick few brands manage to achieve. One notable exception is the acclaimed collaboration between breadmaker Hovis, agency Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP) and director Sir Ridley Scott.

Scott directed five adverts in the series, but it is ‘The Bike Ride’ that still captures Britain’s imagination four decades later, claiming the accolade of best advert from the 1970s, according to an exclusive Marketing Week and YouGov Omnibus poll. Some 28% of adults voted for Hovis’ classic 1973 campaign, beating the Smash ‘Martians’ ad for instant mash potato (26%) into second place.

Shot on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury in Dorset, ‘The Bike Ride’ depicts an old man recalling his days as a baker’s boy struggling to push his bike up a cobbled hill. The voice over delivered by Howard Lang, who played a sea captain in 1970s nautical drama The Onedin Line, was set to a soundtrack of Dvorak’s New World Symphony played by the Ashington Colliery brass band.

“My wife and I chose that music on a Sunday afternoon,” recalls Alan Hepburn, Hovis marketing director in the 1970s, who remembers feeling this advert was going to be a winner right from the start.

History triggers your nostalgia even if it’s beyond your time.

Sir Ridley Scott

When Hepburn joined, he had been tasked with finding a new agency, settling on CDP.

“They realised how valuable the brand was and how it had been underutilised, as I did, and they came along with a bright idea of saying ‘Hovis: As good for you today as it has always been’.”

Established in 1960, CDP was renowned for its talented copywriters and fierce commitment to creativity. While the agency would eventually be incorporated into Dentsu Aegis in 2000, at the height of its powers CDP was a training ground for some of advertising’s biggest names from Charles Saatchi, Oscar-winning film director Alan Parker and art director Ronnie Turner, to Geoff Seymour, who became the first copywriter in Britain to earn £100,000-a-year.

READ MORE: Sir Ridley Scott on why the 1970s was the ‘golden age’ of advertising

Scott describes CDP as the first really innovative agency in England, if not in Europe.

“CDP was the real creative melting pot of a lot of great copywriters and from that agency people would eventually spread out into their own agencies. It was definitely a golden age, it was a very exciting time,” he recalls.

He views the 1970s as the age of the copywriter and photographer, a time when advertising was still in its infancy meaning the industry was “very competitive and very creative”. This focus on the photographer was a good thing, says Scott, who modestly describes himself as being “blessed with a good eye”.

When CDP approached him to direct the adverts, it was the creative team working on the project who inspired Scott to join.

“Anything that Geoff Seymour wrote I very much paid attention to because he was special,” he explains.

“He came up with this concept and perhaps it’s because I’m from South Shields, I think he thought I’d understand the mining mentality in the colliery towns. While I wasn’t from mining stock I’d seen enough of it and so it was kind of in my bones and I knew what I was looking for.”

READ MORE: The nation’s favourite marketing campaigns revealed

Making an impact

The advert struck a cord with the public as soon as it aired. Hepburn remembers receiving hundreds of letters saying “how wonderful” it was, while the campaign sparked a “huge” increase in Hovis’s sales.

‘The Bike Ride’ was also a creative success. The advert claimed the D&AD Silver Award in 1975 for the most outstanding film photography, as well as scooping the Gold and Special Gold at the 1974 Clio Awards and the joint Premier Award in the National Broadcast Advertising Festival in 1974.

“Everything was perfect – the concept, the visuals, the music; it all chimed in perfectly. I have never been involved in a campaign that was as smooth and so instantly successful,” says Hepburn.

Forty years later, ‘The Bike Ride’ remains the best remembered advert of the 1970s according to our poll, with 78% of adults surveyed recalling the campaign. This figure includes 80% of 35- to 44-year-olds, while 94% of those aged between 45 and 54 and 95% of people aged 55-plus recall the ad. Furthermore, 89% of consumers clearly associate the advert with the Hovis brand.

Hepburn is convinced the ad kickstarted the growth of the brand today, building on a powerful sense of nostalgia. Scott agrees that the advert resonated so strongly because the desire to look back to days gone by is in “everyone’s DNA”.

“That’s why people like to watch such shows as The Crown and a modern generation lap up that kind of stuff, like Downton Abbey. History triggers your nostalgia even if it’s beyond your time,” Scott adds.

Reflecting on that time, Hepburn describes the whole series of adverts as the “highlight” of his life in advertising: “It was a marvellous time. It was great for the brand and I’m delighted to say that the brand as a universal bread product has lived on to become the most popular brand in bread in Britain, and it all goes back to that.”

Look out for our analysis of the nation’s favourite ad of the 1980s tomorrow.

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