How Nescafé's Tony and Sharon ads brewed the UK's lasting romance with instant coffee

Nescafe Gold mascots Tony & Sharon

The Drum has joined forces with leading industry legends and The Financial Times to recognize some of the most enduring campaigns of all-time. We start by looking at Nescafé’s hugely successful 'Gold Blend' series…

Few advertising campaigns have captured the UK public’s imagination quite like Nestlé’s long-running 'Gold Blend' series.

The serialized tale of Tony and Sharon, two characters who bond over their mutual love for Nescafé instant coffee, was a game-changer for the company and the wider advertising community. It starred TV actress Sharon Maughan and Anthony Head of Little Britain and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame

Spanning 12 ads from 1987 to 1993, the success of the story saw a 50% increase in sales in the UK alone. The emotional hook delivered by the ad proved irresistible to the public. The media expressed considerable interest in each ad, whipping up a love affair for coffee in the UK.

It charted the highs and lows of the couple’s life together, from their first meeting to confessing their love for each other - and the eventual break-up. The work was so successful that variousCDs, books, tie-ins and other sorts of spin-offs were created off the back of it.

The final installment of the couple's story built to an emotional crescendo when 30 million people viewed it when it aired in 1993.

Conceived by ad agency McCann-Erickson, it is often held up as a masterclass in serialized advertising, Nestlé attempted to bring back the concept numerous times – with varying degrees of success - in particular for Taster's Choice.

The timing was perfect for Nescafé to cement its place as a behemoth in the market – Starbucks would make its move on the UK in 1998. Despite the lasting appeal of the ad, Nestlé could do with another hit after reporting underwhelming profits earlier this year.

Either way, the legacy of this campaign was huge. Notably the continued use of storytelling in modern advertising – John Lewis and their Christmas ads being a strong modern example.

Nestlé attempted to bring back some of the old magic in 2010 as they gave a modern update to the classic tale – although it had less impact.

Despite the ad’s iconic status with a certain generation, actor Anthony Head spoke of his belief that he is rarely remembered for starring in it.

In a 2014 interview with the Irish Times, he said: “It’s a generational thing, It’s rarer and rarer that anyone remembers the coffee.”

Either way, it remains an icon in advertising history.

What’s your pick for the best long-running campaign of all-time? Ahead of the annual The Drum Advertising Awards, The Drum has joined forces with leading industry legends and The Financial Times to recognize some of the most enduring campaigns of all-time.

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