Um Bongo versus Kia Ora

Um Bongo and Kia Ora. I loved both of these brightly-coloured drinks when I was a nipper – probably packed for e-number to keep toddlers bouncing off walls for hours – and remember the accompanying adverts with great fondness.

Looking at them these days induces a bit of a cringe, however, They’re frankly packed with all sorts of dubious racial stereotypes: add in a cowardly Jewish vulture who’s always trying to steal the carton-ed drinks and you’d be laughing (or not, as the case may be). Kia ora is actually a Maori greeting, which roots it further in some foreign = exotic idiom.

However, I’m not going to attempt some retcon of our racial attitudes from way-back-when. By our standards, these ads might make us a little uncomfortable, but they’re clearly not malicious. Chalk that one down to things-that-used-to-be-a-bit-dodgy then.

kia ora advert

Now that we’ve got that unpleasantness out of the way, let’s have a look at them. Ads like this are, natch, aided by a hefty nostalgia whack, so we’re naturally inclined to look on them favourably. While that does invite the horrifying thought that tomorrow’s thirtysomethings will go all misty-eyed at the sight of Cara Confused or Gio Compario, it’s a fairly undeniable mechanism in stuff like this.

No doubt if Russell Howard was a bit younger he’d walk on stage to one of these songs – the fucking twat – and you can bet your bottom dollar some dopey radio DJs with overly shiny teeth, a fondness for 16-year-old girls and a raging coke habit plays them ironically during their drivetime slots.

The best example of these songs’ wider exposure is in Spaced, where Simon Pegg has an awkward chat at the urinal with a young urchin who doesn’t know what he’s one about when he quotes the ‘just for me and my dog’ line – and follows it up with a squawked ‘it’s too orangey for crows’. Which rather encapsulates the whole childhood nostalgia thing perfectly. If you remember it from your youth, you probably love it. If you don’t you’re probably baffled by it.

They’ve both held up pretty well, aesthetically speaking. It’s all a bit Cosgrove Hall – fast, knockabout and charming – and the ability to craft memorable songs in adverts that don’t drive you to a terrible howling rage is evident here.

From the languid dancehall of the Kia Ora ad to the tribal rhythms of Um Bongo, this was probably the first black music most people in Cheshire ever heard.

I don’t remember which drink I liked best, perhaps Um Bongo. But which ad is best? I can’t decide – it would be like picking one of my kids over the other. If either of them are still going, I’m open to free samples.