The enduring power of three Shredded Wheat

Three Shredded Wheat Image copyright Thinkstock

David Cameron has declared he won't seek a third term as prime minister, citing an advertising slogan for Shredded Wheat used in the UK more than 30 years ago. What's its enduring power, asks Justin Parkinson.

The hotel kitchen staff are in disbelief. Someone in room 147 has ordered three Shredded Wheat. The maid transports them upstairs to find England cricketer Ian Botham waiting at a table, dressed in full whites.

The maid leaves. Botham hides one of the Shredded Wheat under a napkin and winks to camera. Cue music, as the slogan "Shredded Wheat. Bet you can't eat three" appears.

This advert and others featuring football manager Brian Clough and the actor Richard Kiel, who played Jaws in James Bond films, have not run for some time. Nestle, which owns the brand, says the last probably aired in 1984.

But their message seems to have waned little. Telling the BBC he would only serve a limited time in Downing Street, David Cameron said: "Terms are like Shredded Wheat - two are wonderful but three might just be too many."

The prime minister's reprise was unlikely to be accidental, says Thayne Forbes, joint managing director of the brand-valuation company Intangible Business. "Everybody would empathise with the view that three Shredded Wheat would probably be too much," he says. "The slogan suggests people shouldn't overdo it. It sounds modest and reasoned."

As marketing goes, it might seem counter-intuitive, as it discourages excessive consumption. But it also sounds honest and unexploitative.

Other advertising slogans and themes are in wide use in public and political discourse. Examples include Marmite being a by-word for divisiveness - a "Marmite person" is either loved or hated. Cameron has twice referred to Ronseal - the woodcare product that does "exactly what it says on the tin". But Shredded Wheat, its best-known slogan having lain dormant for so long, appears to be used less often.

The cereal, created in the US in the 1890s, has long been sold as good for the evolving British lifestyle. A newspaper advert in 1902 described it as "a relief from the monotony of everlasting porridge", while, by 1943, it was "an ideal food for all war workers". The 1980s saw an emphasis on "simple, honest goodness", while, in the 2000s, its long heritage and reliability was promoted.

"It's a good association for Cameron," says Forbes. "He must have been brought up on it, like lots of other people. It will be great marketing for Shredded Wheat to have the slogan used after so many years, too."

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