Recently I was watching an old advert break on YouTube from 1992 (now there’s a surprise), when an advert appeared that I was really pleased to see again because it is one of my all-time favourites. It’s for Trebor Softmints and features the classic character Mr Soft. It’s such a wonderfully odd advert that I decided to find out more about it and share my memories.
The advert for Trebor Softmints appeared regularly on TV from about 1987 to 1995. It made a real impact on me as it did on many other viewers. It is an advert that is somewhat difficult to describe really. Someone is walking along a street, but because they have bitten into a Softmint (“crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside”) their whole world has turned chewy and soft.
Mr Soft is also very generous, handing out Softmints to everyone and everything including parking meters and postboxes who seemingly like to chew on them too, whilst a cat sat on a fence looks on. Indeed, he gets so carried away doing this he collides with a lamppost and ends up on the floor. Seriously, what is going on there?
I’m not sure what it is that I really like about this advert, firstly of course it’s such an odd idea, and I do like Mr Soft’s odd walk as he seems to bounce along the street in time to the music. The song used in the advert made a big impact too. It was “Mr Soft”, which was a top ten hit for Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel in 1974. They are better known nowadays for their 1975 chart-topper “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)”.
So when I decided to find out more about this advert, assuming that there wouldn’t be much information on the internet about it, I was really surprised. First of all, a reworked version of “Mr Soft” was used with specially amended lyrics for the advert, “oh Mr Soft, how come everything around you is so soft and rearranged?“. Also, it wasn’t actually sung by Steve Harley, but a convincing soundalike.
I also assumed that Mr Soft only had his 30 seconds of fame on TV, but having a look on YouTube I was really pleased to discover that there were at least two more adverts made. First of all, there was an advert for the variation Trebor Softfruits, where our hero seems to be stranded on a desert island, but he has his Softfruits which he somehow is able to suck through a straw, before having an unfortunate encounter with a crab.
There was also a variation on the original advert, which reveals that Mr Soft is on Trebor Street, and after meeting a human traffic warden he decides to give them a Softmint, which turns them all soft, leaving Mr Soft to leave in his car. There is also another variation on the music. Lots of people do seem to remember this advertising campaign, I’ve seen lots of comments by people insisting that they used to be scared by these adverts, but they clearly had some sort of impact on a generation of viewers, and Mr Soft was a great mascot for Trebor.
I was going to conclude that Mr Soft is something of an unsung TV advertising hero, but his legacy clearly runs deeper than I imagined, as he is also referenced in Oasis’s 1994 hit “Shakermaker”, and before they were famous the group Elbow were originally called Mr Soft after the character. It’s clearly not only me who remembers all of this.
Although Mr Soft has long since left the screen, Trebor Softmints are still available and continue to be advertised on TV to this day, and again their adverts continue to be somewhat peculiar. After seeing the classic advert again though I fancied having some Softmints and they still taste great. Now that’s the power of advertising.