Keeping it real: how TalkTalk is avoiding the pitfalls of 'real people' advertising

As TalkTalk launches the next instalment of its campaign celebrating the real lives of an everyday family, marketing director David Parslow tells Campaign how the brand is making the reality format work.

TalkTalk is taking TV viewers back to Blackpool with a new 30-second ad, breaking on TV today, that sees parents Julie and Paul tapping their toes at home to music. CHI & Partners created the spot.

It was created by CHI & Partners' Danny Hunt, and directed by Tom Tagholm through Park Pictures. The media agency is M/SIX.

According to marketing director David Parslow, the campaign, which launched last October, has had a positive impact on brand consideration, the extent to which its customers feel valued, and overall opinions of the brand.

But with a number of brands recently opting to feature real people in their campaigns, Parslow admits there is a risk of ads like these becoming anonymous.

"I think it is difficult to get right – there’s a lot of risk involved," he says. "First and foremost, it was down to the creative vehicle.

"I think what we did differently is we were completely authentic. We set the house up with motion sensors, and let the cameras roll for a few weeks."

This approach meant there was a faint possibility, he acknowledges, of watching through the footage at the end of the filming period to discover there was nothing worth using – a situation he calls his "biggest nightmare".

But the risk is completely necessary, he says: "As soon as you put a script in their hands, or set up a slightly staged situation, you immediately lose that authenticity."

Parslow says the campaign, "This stuff matters", is intended to run for some time – but the brand may feature a different family next year.

Alongside the TV ads, the brand has been working with social content partners Storyful and Vidsy to promote the brand’s unlimited fibre through online channels.

With Storyful, "you give them a brief, and they’ll go out and source content," Parslow explains. "It’s pre-existing, and something that hasn’t got a massive following yet but could do if we get some spend behind it.

"Vidsy’s model is slightly different. You give them a brief and they have a network of contributors. They’ll go out to their selection of their base and give them that creative brief and say, come up with that content."

Each component is united by the need to make an "authentic connection" – but it made sense for the brand to work with multiple creative partners, says Parslow. "We’ve always had a strong relationship with CHI," he says, "but increasingly our creative style has forced us to look at different ways in.

"We also don’t have the spend our competitors do, so we’re always going to look for innovative ways of creating content. Plus there’s more opportunities than ever for different ways of generating content."

It is almost two years since TalkTalk was hit by a cyber attack in which the personal data of more than 150,000 customers breached. But Parslow says the brand is "rebuilding trust levels now – that’s what we’re seeing is the last year or so."

Since then, of course, there have been a number of similar incidents and TalkTalk may not be the first brand that comes to mind upon hearing the words "data breach".

"It’s surprising how people forget about these things," Parslow says. "We have qualitative groups quite frequently and it’s not something that people play back to us now. It’s become a bit of the new normal – you do hear about things much more frequently now."

Just hours after Campaign spoke to Parslow, however, the Information Commissioner’s Office fined TalkTalk £100,000 for failing to protect its customers’ data from scammers and fraudsters. It follows a £400,000 fine last October relating to the data breach.

A spokeswoman for TalkTalk said: "We continue to take our customers’ data and privacy incredibly seriously, and while there is no evidence that any of the data was passed on to third parties, we apologise to those affected by this incident."

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).