Media: Can TV ads survive digital? - Digital television will see the death of traditional television ads, marketers were warned last week. But Amanda Lutchford argues that conventional spot advertising will be around for some time to come

At the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s annual lecture last week, Channel 5’s chief executive David Elstein warned that the digital age of television could make traditional TV commercials a thing of the past.

At the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s annual lecture last week,

Channel 5’s chief executive David Elstein warned that the digital age of

television could make traditional TV commercials a thing of the


He painted a future advertising landscape made up of more sponsorship

and advertiser-funded programmes. Is he right?

The problems advertisers face have been well-documented: the explosion

of channel choice through digital TV; the subsequent audience

fragmentation; and the rise of advertising free subscription


But if the problems are easy enough to identify, the solutions are much

harder to find. There are other opportunities for advertisers but many

have inherent problems.

Funding frenzy

Advertiser-funded programming is an area clients are turning to in

greater numbers, including BT, Pepsi and Heineken.

Procter & Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser has been involved in

funding programmes since the 1930s when it funded American radio shows

and created the concept of the soap opera. Today, it produces Northern

Exposure and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, in association with film-maker


But there are limitations to the practice. Supplying the programme may

help to create a quality media environment - but that in itself is not

an ad. Restrictions in the UK prevent companies from explicitly

promoting their product or service in a programme they have paid


BT ran foul of these restrictions with its programme, Now We’re Talking,

shown on ITV last year. The Independent Television Commission ruled that

the programme had breached its code by plugging BT.

Straightforward sponsorship is also a possibility. But here, too, there

are restrictions on sponsorship credits in opening sequences and bumper

breaks. Marketers are also hostage to the fortunes of the programme to

which they’ve pinned their brand.

Cadbury was forced to renegotiate a cheaper sponsorship of Coronation

Street earlier this year because ratings had slumped. So what about

making the traditional ad more interesting and interactive? This seems

to be the most logical step for most advertisers.

Satellite giant BSkyB is already in discussion with agencies about the

possibility of devoting the last ad in each commercial break on its new

digital channels to interactive advertising.

Kellogg has already experimented in this area, creating an interactive

ad for Frosties, which it showed in homes with cable TV. The ad

effectively became a game where viewers could interact to bring about

different endings.

Interaction dilemma

Graham Bednash, joint partner of Michaelides & Bednash, questions the

effectiveness of interactive ads on TV against Internet advertising. ’TV

is a passive medium; with little or no viewer interaction, there is a

question mark over how it can compete with ads on the Internet, which is

a more proactive medium.’

No one doubts that advertising is going to have to work harder in the

digital age, but Leon Gaume, creative director of Ogilvy & Mather, says

the traditional ad spot will be around for a long time to come: ’The new

media age will bring additional useful tools to advertising, but they

will co-exist with TV ads, not replace them.’


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