Variety is very important to a successful Annual and so Campaign agonises long and hard before anointing any candidate twice. Yet Channel 4’s case for Medium of the Year is potentially even stronger than that for Advertiser of the Year. With its award-winning, innovative sales house generating revenues ahead of the buoyant market, programming finding its stride and a fresh new look, the publicly owned broadcaster is in a really good place – for now.
When Channel 4 hired Jonathan Allan (below), then the managing director of its media agency, OMD UK, as its sales director in July 2011, many were sceptical given his lack of senior experience in either ad sales or TV. A couple of years into his tenure, amid complaints about service and a bust-up with his biggest client splashed over the papers, the doubters might have been forgiven to holding fast to that view. Yet winning the TV Sales Team of the Year prize at the Campaign Media Awards ahead of ITV in 2014 marked a turning point.
To be fair to Channel 4, it has always led the way with new digital ad products and services. But now it has proper scale to be able to leverage them – 13 million registered viewers and half of 16- to 34-year-olds. In March, All 4 replaced 4oD, bringing all of Channel 4’s online properties on to the same platform for the first time. Alongside streaming and TV shows on demand, the new Shorts format has racked up 11.5 million views.
Digital innovations spearheaded by the affable Jonathan Lewis include mass campaigns with personalised messages on video-on-demand and sequential advertising. And the numbers show that this work is paying off, with digital revenues up 50 per cent. There is more to come next year following the announcement of the launch of a programmatic ad exchange for VoD on all formats and a new in-house creative strategy department, Pl4y.
Five years in, the creative chief, Jay Hunt, has brought about a programming renaissance. Channel 4 now has a range of returning formats regularly delivering decent numbers including Gogglebox, Hunted, The Island, The Jump, Humans, and the Educating… and 24 Hours… series. Channel 4’s share might have fallen but quality is high: it won six Baftas – its total the highest of any broadcaster for the second year in a row.
Even before winning two awards in this book, Channel 4 was ending the year with a health trophy cabinet. For the first time since 2006, it was named Sales Team of the Year at the Media Week Awards, where OMD won the Grand Prix for its Humans campaign, and then landed TV Sales Team of the Year at the Campaign Media Awards for the second year in succession. Yet, despite all these gains, its finely balanced structure is at risk.
Channel 4’s achievements this year show that the broadcaster can innovate commercially and creatively as a publicly owned asset. It will be more difficult to do both if its management has shareholders and profit margins to worry about. Hopefully the government will appreciate that.
Instagram only narrowly missed out on top honours. That the platform came so close despite only fully opening for business in 2015 is a credit to Steve Hatch and the impressive operation he is building at its Facebook parent.
This was a big year for Instagram. In addition to celebrating its fifth birthday, the social network surpassed 400 million monthly active users globally, overtaking its rival Twitter. In the UK, 14 million people use the app every month, on average for 21 minutes every day. Moreover, Instagram is hugely popular with the key millennial audience, 70 per cent of whom use the site at least monthly.
Creativity and more control for brands have been at the heart of Instagram’s approach. Advertisers can now upload 30-second videos, instead of the usual 15 seconds, make use of a new landscape format and provide selections of images in a carousel.
Engaging work included an interactive ad campaign by The Brooklyn Brothers for Land Rover resembling the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of children’s books. Across the year, Instagram campaigns from John Lewis, Bulmers and Made.com delivered strong ad recall, brand awareness and purchase intent.
The Instagram team has taken shape in 2015. Amy Cole, Instagram’s fifth-ever employee, moved to London from San Francisco in June to lead brand development across EMEA. Working under her are Gord Ray, the Wallpaper* publishing director, and James Bennett, a Skype specialist at Microsoft, who joined in May and October respectively.
Instagram has had a really good first year as an advertising platform. With a solid foundation to build on, we are expecting another strong challenge in 2016.
Recent winners: Facebook (2014); Twitter (2013); ITV (2012); The Guardian (2011); London Evening Standard (2010)