I’m not sure what it says about a nation when peeling and chopping a few potatoes before dropping them into a saucepan of water is considered too onerous a task but for some people it obviously is, judging by the popularity of Smash. It’s been around since the 1960s and currently sells around 140 million servings every year.
For those of you who have no problem wielding a kitchen implement and therefore may never have needed the handiness of packet vegetables, Smash is an instant mashed potato mix – a sachet of granules which simply need boiling water poured over them and then stirring to create a smoother version of mash. ‘Version’ being the only way to describe instant mash – nobody would mistake it for the real thing – it isn’t fluffy, like proper mash should be and it tastes fairly – well, lacklustre.
Whether it would be as popular without the help of the iconic Smash Martians is anybody’s guess, however. Those metal critters took our nation’s hearts in a series of 1970’s and 80’s adverts and turned us on to the idea that peeling your own potatoes was serious time wasting. More about them in a minute.
Smash was launched by Cadbury’s in 1969. Now forgive me for not really seeing the connection…they’re the chocolate people, aren’t they? At what point did somebody on their ideas panel suggest that they diversify from sweet, yummy sugar-laden treats to – um – squashed starchy tubers? The year of Smash’s emergence on to the foodstuff shelf may, of course, have influenced the robot themed averts: Apollo 11’s successful visit to the moon took place the same year.
While Smash wasn’t the first lazy person’s instant mash – sorry, ‘busy’ person’s instant mash (Mars had already developed a couple of potato substitutes before this) it quickly became the market leader for Cadbury’s. And let’s face it – the only one that, now, anybody would be able to name if asked. Cadbury’s later diversified further from chocolate and began producing tea and coffee, cakes, jam, soft drinks and even household cleaners such as Jeyes Fluid. Presumably not on the same conveyor line as the sweets though.
Anyway, back to the marketing. The famous Smash Martian adverts were simple, but for their time, very effective. They were created by new ad agency Boase Massimi Pollitt – they were their first campaign in fact – who went on to bring both the Cresta and the Hofmeister Bears and the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster to the masses as well. The Smash Martians weren’t technological marvels: they looked like robots as designed by children with access to a kitchen (their heads looked like two mixing bowls stuck together) but they had a loveable and quirky quality to them that resonated with their audience.
Their shaky, tinny voices were provided by Peter Hawkins, a voice-over artist of some esteem; he also brought Zippy from Rainbow to life, not to mention both the Daleks and the Cybermen from Doctor Who. I bet his family made him speak like them ALL the time.
The Martians were enormously successful for Cadbury’s, both in terms of sales and also in brand awareness; the adverts are still remembered fondly to this day. They were voted the television Ad of the Century by UK trade magazine Campaign and the second best television advert of all time in a Sunday Times and Channel 4 poll in 2000 (the Guiness surfer advert from a year earlier took first place). ITV also crowned the Smash Martians number one in its Best Ever Ads list of 2005.
The advertisements ran on a theme: the Martians would watch humans laboriously preparing mashed potato and laugh at us for not realising there was a much simpler (if far less tasty) way of doing things. One such advert went like this:
A group of blue headed Martians sat around the table. A red headed Martian (presumably the leader of the gang) says ‘On your last trip did you discover what the Earth people eat?’
One of the blue heads says ‘They eat a great deal of these.’ (Holds up potato) ‘They peel them with their metal knives (the other Martians start chuckling), boil them for twenty of their minutes (the others can barely contain themselves) then they smash them all to bits (the others are falling about by now). They are clearly a most primitive people.’
The adverts would all end with an instantly singable strapline. Try it now: walk up to the next person you see and warble ‘For mash….?’ Anybody who has even the vaguest recollection of the adverts should reply ‘…get Smash!’
The Martians’ personalities weren’t formed on the ad agency’s design table – their gentle mickey taking of human behaviour came about through the puppeteers playing around with their creations until they hit on these personas.
Smash and its metallic crew remained in style until the middle of the 1980s when the fashion for television chefs and cookery shows exploded and convenience foods took a step back. Premier Foods, now the biggest consumables producer in the UK, then took charge of Smash, along with other brands such as Typhoo tea and Hartley’s jam, in 1986.
Premier Foods brought out some other Smash variations, including ‘Cheddar and Onion’ and ‘Buttery’, as well as creating a ‘healthier’ recipe for the basic product (although most normal people would probably maintain that making your own mash potato from scratch is probably the healthiest option).
While the Smash Martians have been consigned to advertising history, the actual puppets haven’t: a few of them can be seen in the National Media Museum, in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Premier Foods, who now own the Smash brand, have others in their head office in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
Now, I don’t know about you, but ‘For mash…get Smash’ is still resonating around my brain like crazy – I fancy a bowl of granules and hot water. Yum.