BBC launches Mr Riley’s meaty & sweety pie range

Those watching Mischief on BBC last night (Britain’s Really Disgusting Foods) hopefully weren’t eating their evening meal in front of the TV. Mr Riley’s Pies may well come packaged to look tasty but when you discover what’s in them, even given the marketing spin, they are not so appetizing.

The show that featured Steve Phillips (Spring Research), Brooke Dalton-Brewer (Spinnaker) and myself was actually great fun to make.

There’s nothing like a light hearted look at the darker side of marketing. Though I’m sure many packaging agencies are livid that advertising people exposing some of their devious techniques. Give it a personal identity, old fashion packaging for a traditional look, farm images for credibility and the master stroke – dolphin friendly.

Northern comedian and anarchist, Alex Riley may not be to everyone’s taste (just like his dad’s pies – yes that is his dad on the packaging) but he makes it lot more interesting that those old stuffy BBC presenters who take it all too seriously.

Dressing up in a wet suit and filling it with water certainly makes the point about how much water is added to chicken!

The programme format was simple – Alex goes in search of the most disgusting thing that can be legally sold as food. He discovers manufacturers have ingenious ways of transforming poor ingredients into something that looks and tastes like good food. Corn starch (wallpaper paste) is one common ingredient.
He unearths hidden horrors, from substitute cheese to beef connective tissue and many other horrors. And that’s the legal stuff, imagine what’s not legal that gets sold?

The programme set out to expose just how crap some food we’re sold can be.

What actually goes into those pies is disgusting though we all ate them and strangely they actually tasted ok. I had some in my office for weeks and as a sign of just how little real food was in them it took that long for them to go moldy.

It was inevitable that the programme would set up big names and Brooker certainly got a pasting. Though I do think they were unfair to one of the big agencies (no names as I’m sure they’d prefer no further publicity).

Asda, by contrast, I thought came our really well.

Thankfully, we were in on the humour rather than the victim and I do think that humour is a great way to make a point.

However, there is a serious ethical and moral point – as an industry how do we cope with selling products we know are crap? Not so bad when everyone knows it – no one is trying to pretend KFC uses the finest quality freedom farm chickens. We buy it knowing exactly what it is so at least there’s an honesty about it.

But some of those pies and pasties sold as authentic quality foods aren’t. Sweets with chemicals in. Foods packed full of water or other substances. Kids snacks with e numbers? Apparently, Kellogg’s artificial Maple Syrup had the greatest number of e numbers in.

Where do we draw the line? When is it acceptable and when isn’t it? Should we have a moral code in the ad business? Some agencies refuse to work on cigarette accounts (AMV), others on oil companies. With the great debate about marketing to kids, is there an ad agency who is prepared to say no to marketing crap snack food?

When we did a research group with kids we asked them who are the bad brands – Coke, Pepsi, McDonalds, Burger King, petrol companies and a few others were mentioned.

Although it’s easy to take pot shots at these ethically demonised brands (I could write a lot about the good work that McDonalds, Coke and Pepsi are doing) there are many worse ones that look like angels, selling us hidden horrors. Why are chocolate, biscuit and crisp manufacturers not demonised?

The programme, like advertising will be tomorrow’s chip paper – no one questions how crap fish and chips are do they? It’ll have its 15 minutes of fame around the water cooler and then a few hours later we’ll all be eating Cornish pasties again and diving into a kebab after the pub.

It’s ironic that with the credit crunch sales of McDonalds has gone up – so much for the health conscious consumer.

But more frightening than the revelation about ingredients (or the fact there’s a glass full of fat in every kebab) is the ad they made themselves. It’s a lesson in why you should never do it yourself and should always get experts to write your ads!!

There’s another episode that features a few adland faces in too – look out for the one on data – Your Identity For Sale (BBC Three Sept 11th). Rebecca Wilcox, who’s a lot more attractive than Alex Riley, clocks up over 1500 ads she’s exposed to in one day and reveals the abuse of data and a few revealing facts about Facebook.

  • Gordon Macmillan

    You were on BBC One, sadly I missed this, but I am reliably informed you were very good.

  • Sean Ruttledge

    Great show

    Some shite we know is shite and we freely admit to wanting the shite, a lot of folks gamble, go to lapdancing bars, smoke, drink alcohol, eat Pot Noodles

    It’s seedy sordid and we love it, the HONESTY point is the most valid one, Pot Noodle became sexier in my eyes when theycalled themselves “The SLAG of all snacks” but lost favour when they fckd up their decades old product by removing all the salt and attempting to sell the now tasteless gloop as a feckin HEALTH FOOD FFS !

    Talk about a midlife brand identity crisis, bring back the SLAG she was an honest and a tasty SLAG now she’s bland, dull, better for my health and definately pretending to be something that blatantly is NOT ! give me an honest whore over a PRETENDER with an identity crisis any day of the week

    By the way, JWT managed to come out of that show looking quite BAD, they looked like a bunch of cowardly cissies who have something to hide

    Honesty really is ALWAYS the best policy

  • Philip Smith

    Saw the show – though came to it half way through so I missed the chicken/wet suit analogy, sadly. That said, I really enjoyed the bits I saw – though personally I didn’t think much of Alex Riley despite his irreverency.
    I think the panel of experts (including Chris) came across well and clearly there can be a big dilemma for any agency when faced with a ‘crap’ product to sell. In theory, we only do our best work – in whatever sphere of business – when we believe in what we are doing, but when money is needed, then the question of what you believe in gets challenged.
    At a time when the Advertising Association (and Sir Martin Sorrell) are urging advertisers to be responsible, and the economic picture is so gloomy, it’s a really good time to consider Mr Riley’s Pies.


    There’s a programme in the same series on data protectio on Thursday 11th at 9 on BBC3.