Media Perspective: Eye-catching ITV ad shows the channel means to take risks

Look closely and you might just detect a media backlash against obscurantism. More specifically against critics who rave about TV shows such as The Wire while they ignore more palpably commercial fare that pulls in the millions required by the big broadcasters.

This is a welcome process hastened by the likes of Harry Hill who, with his TV Burp, makes you feel OK about sitting down for half an hour to laugh along with gags about mainstream hits such as EastEnders and Law & Order.

Curious, then, that in the midst of all this populist chest-thumping, ITV goes and launches one of the most obscure TV ads of all time (certainly from a major UK broadcaster) to support its ITV1 channel. Yet ITV's aim with "beach" (created by its ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty) is to create a sense of broad optimism around the channel, increasing engagement and loyalty while not "dumbing down".

ITV certainly can't be accused of dumbing down with this branding work. BBH has created a thing of beauty (check it out at from Saturday night). I found it impressive, if not instantly likeable.

At the start of the epic spot, you feel you're in Famous Five territory, but as you move from the darkness into the light, it's more like absorbing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the opium-fuelled Samuel Taylor Coleridge than anything by Enid Blyton. It's an oddly confident thing from ITV, but is it right for audiences and advertisers?

Despite ITV plc recently announcing a thumping loss alongside a programme of job cuts, not to mention the declining ad revenues, David Pemsel, the marketing director of ITV, and his team reckon it has plenty to shout about. Primarily an improved onscreen performance: primetime ITV1 has marginally increased its share of ABC1 adult viewing in the year to date (against a drop for BBC1) and drama highlights such as Whitechapel (with 9.3 million viewers) mean it currently boasts four of the top five rating dramas of the year. Wild At Heart, Above Suspicion and Unforgiven are the others.

So the broadcaster feels vindicated in being so ballsy in backing ITV1's new positioning as "the brighter side". And I'm impressed with it, not least as an attempt to inject something meaningful into a brand that seems flat and is perceived by many light and non-viewers as lacking anything of interest and substance.

Of course, the campaign may still mystify and misfire but ITV deserves applause for supporting its biggest channel at a difficult time. Now it's down to ITV's beleaguered programmers to deliver more consistency on a smaller budget. Not a constraint that BBH seems to have faced when creating the advertising.


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