Are live commercials really worth it?

Do live ads bring something new to the table or are they just a gimmick?

Honda...created live skydiving ad
Honda...created live skydiving ad

Whether it is Chumbawamba throwing water over John Prescott or Robbie Williams challenging Liam Gallagher to a fight, the Brit Awards can always guarantee to cause quite a stir.

Next year, though, it could be the ads rather than the guests that supply the excitement, following news that ITV has offered agencies the opportunity to film live 60-second ads during the ceremony's ad breaks.

ITV's concept comes just months after Honda's successful live ad, which saw 19 skydivers spell out "Honda" in the skies above Madrid.

However, despite the fact the car manufacturer drew warm praise from most quarters, there is still some deliberation as to whether live ads are an effective tool.

For Honda, the ad reinforced the brand's concept that "difficult is worth doing", and created an "event" that had people setting their Sky+ boxes for.

Yet despite this, one agency managing director is keen to stress the pitfalls that live ads bring: "So many ads nowadays depend on technique and effect, with consumers having higher and higher standards that you need to appeal to. Live ads simply cannot live up to this.

"We're paid millions to control messages for our clients, and yet in this scenario we'd be unable to control the way the agency and brand is shown."

This point was proved last year when Albion attempted to film the last seconds of a live eBay auction in one of its ads, but ended up crashing the site for a few seconds - putting over a less than complimentary view of the service.

However, Neil Christie, the managing director of Wieden & Kennedy, believes Honda's success came not just from the fact it was an intriguing new concept, but because the idea worked.

Christie says: "Live ads will work, but it depends on the execution. It needs to be able to play off the fact of being live. It needs to be able to use something that can only happen live. Honda's was not only live, but was difficult and daring to do, and that gave it extra impact."

Live ads provide benefits

Yet some remain sceptical. "Honda worked because it's advertising value was disproportionate because it was the first time it had been done. People will think ‘it's done now'," an industry insider says.

But putting these arguments aside, it is fair to say, if used properly, a live ad can bring benefits that a pre-recorded ad simply wouldn't provide, as well as being able to wow consumers with the inherent risk and innovation.

Ben Priest, a founding partner of Adam & Eve, worked on the live ads for Virgin Mobile in 2005 in which viewers were given the chance to win V Festival tickets the day before the event.

"Rather than just running a picture ad in NME, we wanted to show that we're giving them away now. By being live at the festival the day before, we built excitement and anticipation. We looked like we were making an effort, and that appealed to people."

Priest agrees, though, that it only worked for Virgin because the idea suited the brand and the concept. Any prospective live ads must be in context, he warns, and not just a gimmick used by agencies to make them appear willing to take risks.

It's this factor that makes one agency chief believe ITV's concept will create more problems than benefits. "What you can do on a soundstage is fairly limited," he says.

"You've got to ask if it's good for the industry if you're putting massive limitations on it. This is a massively risky gimmick."