As everyone knows, the golden age when the advertising interruption model actually worked ended a long time ago. While this has made the job of marketers harder, it has given ad revenue-dependent media owners a much more challenging time.
You might think it fortunate, then, that its replacement advertising mantra - engagement - has spawned an entire industry of agencies that believe that the old ad format of a 30-second spot interrupting TV viewing is no longer appropriate or effective. Instead, their wisdom holds that brands must provide something with which audiences can engage.
So, along came branded content - programmes that were paid for by brands but not unduly editorially influenced by them.
Some have managed to pull this off by providing quality entertainment that would not otherwise have seen the light of day, and maintaining a clear link between the brand and the premise of the show. A good example is ITV1's The Krypton Factor, which was resurrected, following a 14-year hiatus, by software company Sage as part of its efforts to promote its Business Brain Training games.
While not all branded content has been so successful, the format has proved a reasonably useful addition to the marketer's toolbox, and a small but welcome additional revenue stream for the TV companies.
Unfortunately, making a TV series isn't cheap, so some advertisers have been tempted, presumably at their agencies' behest, to shoehorn what is essentially a content idea into their traditional advertising spots.
However, condensing a programme idea - be it a recipe or a series of related vignettes - into an ad spot is a difficult task to pull off, particularly when it is shown in a break that does not offer any editorial context.
This is all too apparent in the bizarre Waitrose spots featuring Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal. These attempt to cram cookery tips and suggested menus into the space of a normal ad break, and are spattered across the schedule. The result is clunky and confusing and fails effectively to advertise anything or provide compelling entertainment. Nonetheless, I predict a rash of similar work from brands that have been wrongly advised that this is the way forward.
It doesn't have to be like this; there is much to be said for contextual advertising and using ad breaks in a more sophisticated way, and broadcasters should be leading on this because it is in their collective interest. It was instructive, therefore, to see how Channel 4 has been using its ad breaks as an environment in their own right.
During last week's Heston's Feast, ads for search engine Bing were related to the other advertisers in the break. For example, prior to a Tesco spot, a short Bing ad asked the question: 'Where can I get everything for the World Cup?' It then came up with the answer 'Tesco', an arrow clicked on a link and the Tesco ad rolled. It was perfectly integrated, engaging and different.
Some broadcasters have also run themed ad breaks that relate to the context of the show - this is hardly ground-breaking, as the publishing industry has been doing it for years.
While all brands might like to think of themselves as content providers, it may not be in their best interests to sink their adspend into expensive branded content or tenuous infomercials when a spot in the right environment will do. Advertisers should demand that the TV companies provide these for them.
Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Marketing. Read his blog at marketingmagazine.co.uk
30 SECONDS ON ... The Krypton Factor
- The Krypton Factor first ran on ITV from 1977 to 1995. It was produced by Granada Television and usually aired at 7pm on Mondays. The presenter was Belfast-born Gordon Burns.
- The title was a reference to Superman's fictional home planet, suggesting that the contestants were expected to display superpowers.
- The format includes rounds such as general knowledge, shape-based puzzles, memory and observation tests, and physical ability, using an army assault course.
- In 1988 and 1989 a spin-off series for children, Young Krypton was hosted by GMTV correspondent Ross King.
- In the years following the show's cancellation, there were persistent rumours that it would be revived by the BBC, like its Granada stablemate University Challenge.
- However, it was confirmed in 2008 that The Krypton Factor would return to ITV the following year, presented by Ben Shephard.
- The 2010 series was won by 29-year-old energy consultant Pete Thompson.