One part of this story is strange, the other is strangely
The strange part is that Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, still seemingly most
pundits’ choice for Agency of the Year, got it wrong. Wrong to the tune
of pounds 40 million, the value of the high-profile launch advertising
campaign it was supposed to be running for ONdigital, the Carlton and
Granada-owned terrestrial digital TV service.
As a result of ’creative differences’, the campaign will now be handled
by BMP DDB, whom AMV narrowly beat in the original pitch to herald a
bold new era in British broadcasting. It is the sort of misunderstanding
that happens routinely between smaller, less prestigious agencies and
their clients - not to AMV.
Stranger still is the fact that AMV actually resigned the high-profile
account, albeit after considerable provocation. ONdigital had started
speaking to BMP after turning down a whole string of AMV’s own campaign
’We’re sorry to have parted with AMV,’ was how ONdigital’s director of
brand marketing, Marc Sands, imparted the news in Campaign last week,
’but we were unable to agree on a creative route.’
And what little evidence there is to be found beneath these sort of
perfunctory statements implies he certainly gave it a fair crack of the
whip - agency insiders suggest the client turned down at least ten
campaign proposals. And this despite the fact that pressure on ONdigital
was mounting, not least because BSkyB was known to be putting the
finishing touches to its own rival digital satellite option.
Then, with his customarily mischievous timing (one week before ONdigital
and AMV made public their parting but two weeks after the agency had
resigned the account) BSkyB’s chief executive, Mark Booth, called a
press conference to announce bold plans to drum up business for the 200-
channel digital TV service it intends to launch on 1 October.
Mindful of the need to beat its only digital rival and knowing that, as
a terrestrial service, ONdigital starts with all the advantages, BSkyB
confirmed it intends to generously subsidise the price of the
BSkyB proposes to underwrite the cost of the necessary satellite dish,
set-top box and remote control by pounds 80 per subscriber. The first
batch of equipment will hit the shops in time for the crucial Christmas
trading period and will weigh in at less than the important pounds 200
Better than that, however, was Booth’s pledge that he had now earmarked
pounds 60 million - three times Sky’s annual advertising budget and
pounds 20 million more than ONdigital - to spend on advertising the
launch through M&C Saatchi.
And, with ONdigital likely to launch a month or so later, things
suddenly started to look very good indeed for BSkyB.
Which brings us back to a familiar scenario. A new company, part-owned
by Granada Television, operating out of the Marco Polo building in
Battersea, looks like being beaten by the more unwieldy technology of a
Rupert Murdoch satellite service. We have been here before. At the start
of satellite TV in the UK, BSB with its ill-fated ’squarials’ was the
Granada subsidiary in the Marco Polo building, failing to get its
product to market before Sky. Once there, it also failed to come up with
a successful launch campaign to promote it.
Booth makes no bones about how important he considers it to get to
market first with both advertising and product. ’On 1 October, Sky will
launch the best television service in the UK,’ he says. ’We are leading
the digital television revolution and will gain greatly from being the
first to launch.’
The question remains whether ONdigital’s new agency can forge a
harmonious working relationship and get that service back on track. It
will help that BMP has been appointed by the clients who will approve
its finished work. AMV never enjoyed that security - the original pitch
was held before the ONdigital team was fully in place. But Sky sources
crow exultantly that they know exactly what problem any agency will face
in trying to conjure up good work for ONdigital - BSkyB itself.
Sky is not just a media owner but also an important programme
It has been talking with ONdigital about supplying a sports channel and
whether it will carry Premier League football. It may turn out that Sky
will be obliged legally to deal with its terrestrial digital rival, but
Sky is no stranger to the art of prevarication, especially when it sees
a chance to hurt a competitor.
For ONdigital, this uncertainty is not conducive to a smooth launch.
Its ad agency is faced with the task of promoting a new TV service
without knowing exactly what will be playing on that service when it
ONdigital’s chief executive, Stephen Grabiner, has said ’this isn’t a
market where we have to slog to the death with Sky,’ claiming his
service will be an upmarket boutique compared with Sky’s 200-channel
But for all his protestations, it’s tough for any agency to promote
those values when it doesn’t know what the new service will show.
Fortunately, help may be just around the corner for BMP. News of a
pivotal deal between Carlton and Universal Studios finally broke last
week. Universal’s library could help provide programmes for both a crime
and a movie channel and could offer something for its new ad agency to
work with as the crucial launch period comes rapidly into sight.