With faceless corporations increasingly out of favour, it pays for a global superbrand to harness social media and tap into the underground scene. Instead of concentrating on the bigger picture, it’s all about microcosms, microsites and building affinities with local scensters. And Nestlé’s new campaign for after dinner mints, After Eights is the result of some inspired thinking by advertising agency J Walter Thompson. Its new tv ad, Jim’s Place, is set at the secret supper club of the legendary Jim Haynes.
American by birth, the academic, bon viveur, and doyen of the literary and theatrical scenes of London, Paris and Edinburgh has been hosting a Sunday night supper club at his Paris home for the best part of three decades. It all started in the early 1970s (way before the days of Miss Marmite Lover and Nuno Mendes) when Haynes’ houseguest, LA dancer, Cathy Sroufe offered to cook dinner for Jim and his friends to earn her keep and now amateur and professional chefs from all over the world compete for a chance to join the party.
And what a party! Jim’s atelier, a former artist’s studio awash with stunning north light hosts 50-60 people every Sunday evening but the numbers can swell to twice that when the weather is fine and proceedings overflow out onto the terrace – at last count, he’d hosted some 130,000 people in total! Everyone calls or emails to secure a coveted spot and the eclectic mix sees all nationalities from all walks of life. A recent salon hosted a Dutch political cartoonist, a beautiful painter from Norway, a truck driver from Arizona, a bookseller from Atlanta and a newspaper editor from Sydney – to name but a few.
But last year a creative from J Walter Thompson spent a rather pleasant evening chez Jim and although he confesses that he’d orginally thought After Eights were a bit “snooty”, he was soon persuaded on board. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Currently in London in his role as After Eight brand ambassador, though I’m sure the unassuming Jim would balk at such a title, I caught up with him at a secret supper club held in his honour “somewhere in Hackney”, hosted by London supperclub supremos, Leluu & Fernandez and sponsored, of course, by those inimitable mints.
The charismatic raconteur revealed how he once lodged with George Orwell’s widow in London and would wait on the likes of Francis Bacon at her cocktail parties in lieu of rent! He gravitated to the French capital having been invited to The University of Paris as a visiting professor in the early 70s and until his recent retirement, lectured on “Media Studies and Sexual Politics” every Tuesday afternoon. “My weekend began on a Tuesday evening and ended the following Tuesday at noon,” he jokes -playing the naÃ¯ve American country boy with great aplomb.
The ultimate diplomat, he refuses be drawn on favourite chefs or types of cuisine, explaining in true literary tradition, that he is an existentialist so most enjoys whatever happens to be on his plate at any given moment – that’ll be the fillet of beef carpaccio then!
Both he and Nestlé are keen to prove that he is real and that his existence has not simply been manufactured for the campaign along the lines of an ambassador’s reception. He tells that a Welsh couple attended one of his parties at the husband’s behest, who, when he’d originally professed a desire to go along, had been met by his wife’s scathing retort, “Jim’s not real, it’s only a commercial!” But let’s face it, if Jim didn’t exist, someone would almost certainly have to make him up!
“So, how does it feel to be the George Clooney of dark chocolate?” I ask as I snap his picture. He laughs but I suspect he rather likes it!