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.
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
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.’