Hovis is bringing its iconic 1973 advert ‘The Bike Ride’ back to TV screens as the British breadmaker looks to stir up brand love among a new generation.
The original collaboration between Hovis, creative agency Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP) and director Sir Ridley Scott depicts an old man recalling his days as a baker’s boy struggling to push his bike up a cobbled hill. By mining the brand’s rich heritage CDP came up with the classic tagline: ‘Hovis: As good for you today as it has always been’.
Now, 40 years since the ad first aired, ‘The Bike Ride’ (otherwise known as The Boy on the Bike) is returning to TV screens tonight (3 June). It uses footage remastered by the British Film Institute and a re-recording of the soundtrack – Antonín Dvorak’s New World Symphony – performed by descendants of the original Ashington Colliery brass band from 1973.
Despite being four decades old, affection remains strong for ‘The Bike Ride’. Last year, it was crowned the nation’s favourite advert from the 1970s in an exclusive Marketing Week and YouGov Omnibus poll. Then, in May, the advert was named the most iconic of the past 60 years, according to research released by Kantar. Some 22% of the 1,200 UK consumers questioned said The Bike Ride was the most seminal ad of the past six decades, while a further 15% described it as the most emotional.
“It puts into question, what’s been going on in the advertising industry for the last 40- plus years,” jokes current Hovis marketing director, Jeremy Gibson.
Gibson believes a mix of nostalgia, a great creative concept and dedication to the craft have driven enduring affection for The Bike Ride over the past 40 years. Compared to the way ads are shot today, with multiple scenes and often aggressive price messaging, Gibson believes the advert stands out as something different.
“Watching the original 45 seconds of that ad it’s almost a moment of pause and that’s why it has cut through as advertising has evolved and changed… because it becomes almost timeless and it’s a heart-warming thing to watch,” Gibson tells Marketing Week.
“It celebrates a time in the advertising world when emotion and feel were much more important than ‘our phone is faster’ or ‘our product is cheaper’.”
While the research highlighted an enduring love for the ad, Gibson explains it also felt like the right time to bring back The Bike Ride as it conveys a sense of there having been a healthier time as today’s society feels increasingly divided.
Going back in time
Gibson is keen to show that Hovis is not just as a company with a nice ad but a brand with real depth and genuine history. To help tell this story, the re-release of The Bike Ride will be supported on social media with additional footage, including interviews with Hovis’s marketing director in the 1970s, Alan Hepburn, and director Sir Ridley Scott.
Hepburn’s brief back in 1973 was to create an ad that would allow Hovis to tug at the audience’s heartstrings, rather than simply being obsessed by taking sales volumes from X to Y.
“I asked Alan about how they wrote the brief back then compared to how we write it now and it was less around taking numbers, it was more about ‘we just want more consumers to love Hovis’. That’s a really simple brief but really hard to execute,” Gibson explains.
“They absolutely hit the nail on the head with not just a great execution, but also a hell of a director who, from talking to Alan, took control on the day and told the client to just sit over there, which was fascinating to hear.”
Scott recalled the very end of the third day on location at Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset, when the clouds were coming in and all the equipment went back in the van. Then suddenly the sun came out and he told everyone to unpack for a re-shoot.
Hepburn remembers that moment vividly as he was about to set off home in his car and suddenly there was a “palaver” as the team reset the entire shoot in order to capture the sunlight.
Gibson marvels at the “level of love, care, passion” displayed by the brand, agency and director, which he believes comes through in the quality of the advert.
This is the first time Hovis has revisited its Bike Ride roots since the 2008 campaign ‘Go on Lad’. The two-minute film follows a young boy running with a loaf of Hovis through history, from the sinking of the Titanic and World War I, to VE Day street parties, miners strikes and the Millennium celebrations. The advert ends with the classic line ‘As good today as it has always been’.
Since then, Hovis has cut its range of pancakes, crumpets and muffins to focus on the quality of its core bread products. There is still growth to be had in the UK bread market, which in 2018 rose in value by 0.7% year on year to £3.5bn, according to Mintel figures. Pre-packaged bread represented 70% of the total volume sold.
In September Hovis launched a new seeded batch, tapping into what Mintel describes as the trend for “bread with bits”, a category that contributed more than £30m to the sales of bread in 2017-2018.
To support this clear focus on the core product, last year Hovis released ‘It’s Just Bread’, a campaign focused on bread as an everyday product. While the campaign did raise brand awareness, Gibson feels that, on reflection, the message was not as “pinpointed” as they would have liked.
“We’re moving now into celebrating our product and our category, as opposed to making it a bit more every day. That’s what we’ll continue to do and using this Boy on the Bike relaunch as a bit of a springboard to do that,” he adds.
Why an iconic ad can be a double-edged sword
The advert itself, combined with the subsequent place it created for Hovis in the fabric of British culture, was the main reason Gibson wanted to join the bakery business as marketing director in December 2018.
Excited about taking a brand with 130 years of heritage through its next stage, Gibson came on board at Hovis following two years as group head of marketing for Innocent Drinks. Prior to that he worked for three years as marketing director at PepsiCo, leading the juice and cereals teams, following five years at Molson Coors, which included a stint as global brand director.
Having worked outside the Hovis business, he appreciates that an advert like The Bike Ride is a powerful asset for any brand and something other marketers would “break their arm for”. Speaking to Marketing Week last year, Alan Hepburn credited the The Bike Ride with kickstarting the baker’s transition into a household name.
Gibson accepts that working for a brand which such an iconic advert in its cannon can be a bit of a “double-edged sword”.
“If you didn’t have it you’d wish you did and if you do have it you go, ‘how do you beat that?’. I’m sure the Cadbury ‘Gorilla’ team thought the same thing and the guys who came in after Guinness did their ‘Surfers’ ad thought, ‘right what do we do next?’. It’s really tricky one,” Gibson reflects.
“My perspective is it’s about being true to the positioning of the brand and almost dissecting what The Boy on the Bike did and thinking, how do you take those elements and bring them to life?”
Looking at the competitive set in a “dynamic” bread category characterised by own brands and big names vying for shelf space, Gibson hopes the re-release of The Bike Ride will appeal to loyal fans, as well as winning over new customers attracted to the brand’s identity as an authentic British baker.