Monday, 8 August 2011

Pot Noodle: 'It's dirty and you want it'

The best way to begin this brand spotlight would be by pointing out that Pot Noodle is the most recognisable, and surely the most popular, instant noodle snack in the UK, whilst simultaneously the most hated brand of all time. According to a 2004 consumer poll, the majority of Brits simply couldn’t stand the product, though whether this referred to the foodstuff itself, the advertising or its reputation of being not so much junk food as just somehow a bit mucky remains unclear. Granted, seven years have passed since this research was carried out, but no other brand springs to mind that might claim its place if the survey were conducted a second time.

So, how can something that’s loathed by so many people remain on the shelves of every single supermarket and the majority of corner shops throughout the nation? The answer is beautifully simple: by using this public disgust to its advantage. 

A relatively young brand, Pot Noodle was launched in 1979 by Golden Wonder, instant noodles themselves having been invented in 1958 by Taiwanese-Japanese businessman Momofuku Ando. It’s almost praiseworthy how the UK can take something basic and filling (albeit dried and pallid) and make it… well… wonderfully tacky. China, for example, has a few dominant brands of instant noodle with lovely names, such as Ting Yi (‘Master Kong’), Hwa-Long (‘Chinese Dragon’) and Bai-xiang ‘(White Elephant’), whereas in Ethiopia, the trade name Indomie is referred to as ‘Lehulum Tesmami’, meaning ‘suitable for all’. All of these will undoubtedly be eaten with at least a little decorum and most likely function as a meal accompaniment rather than a quick and slimy belly filler. And instead of a chintzy porcelain bowl with chopsticks in a calm family-based setting, our nation gobbles limp, dripping ribbons from a plastic pot, emitting vulgar slurps as the rehydrated peas pop between our molars. Still, the container’s recyclable and there’s little water usage involved, as you don’t have to do any washing up, so it’s not all bad.

Over the last few years, Pot Noodle has truly embraced its reputation of bordering on the sinful, and this has been blatantly portrayed through use of overtly smutty situations. One advert followed a seemingly straight-laced man as he prowls the streets in search of a purveyor of the forbidden snack, and another sees the shooting of a backstreet adult movie, the female star going wild with a classic Chicken and Mushroom. But it wasn’t so much the content that some found offensive, it was the graphic strapline that tipped the whole campaign over the edge: Pot Noodle claimed to be ‘The slag of all snacks’.

And yet, the brand’s marketing department didn’t stop there. Instead they produced posters showing their product resting next to a seedy neon sign buzzing ‘Hurt me you slag’. Situated on bus stops, high streets and billboards, these were swiftly withdrawn once banned by the Advertising Standards Authority; a sad day in Pot Noodle history, but good publicity nonetheless.

Possibly the most intense Pot Noodle campaign featured a man joining his friends in a bar, but being met with surprise and disgust when they notice his badly concealed ‘Pot Noodle horn’, an oversized manifestation of his feelings toward the snack. You can’t help but love the guy’s dedication when, having accidentally knocked a woman off her seat with his instrument of passion, he boldly declares that "It's big and brassy and I'm going to blow it!” This advert soon got shunted on the TV schedule to after the 9pm watershed.

Over time, Pot Noodle adverts have treated us to ‘The Lambshank Redemption’ (a parody of Stephen King’s inmate drama, with the classic phrase "Spanking gorgeous!"), ‘The Moussaka Rap’ ("I'm making vegetarian moussaka with cheese from Osaka"), and the hardworking men and women of the fictional Crumlin Noodle Mine (Pot Noodles are manufactured in Croespenmaen, near Crumlin, Wales, with 155 million units produced annually). So whether you line your kitchen cupboards with Pot Noodles or wouldn't eat one if your life depended on it, you have to admit that the brand is honest, innovative and has a good sense of humour.

Pot Noodle currently comes in about fifteen flavours. Whilst Beef and Tomato and Chow Mein have remained popular, some have been fleeting due to either lower than expected sales or limited availability, such as Bacon Sizzler and the posh-sounding Lamb and Mint. Then there are the seasonal editions, namely Turkey and Stuffing and even Christmas Dinner, ideal for slovenly bachelors who can then claim they prepared a traditional Yuletide meal. A responsible choice is Doner Kebab, as it’s a relatively healthy alternative to its far fattier namesake, albeit an awful lot soggier.

Personally I love Pot Noodles; any meal that can be prepared with nothing more than hot water and a fork is alright in my books. But when I’m eating one, I can’t stop myself from thinking about Lister in Red Dwarf when he shares his opinion on the brand: "I've been to a parallel universe, I've seen time running backwards, I've played pool with planets and I've given birth to twins, but I never thought in my entire life… I'd taste an edible Pot Noodle." 

A Hull Graphic Design Agency

1 comment:

  1. Good article! - I agree, a brand that everyone knows but few admit to loving (a dirty secret...)

    hopefully Kabuto Noodles ( - launched jan 2011)is going to change the perception of instant noodles as something that has to be grim - Wagamama etc...are huge & tasty but instant noodles are still the slag of all snacks, time for a change!