Mark Lund believes that offense is the best defence. Just as long as
entertainment levels remain high in ads, then the public will chose to
keep ads breaks intact
OK, hands up, who doesn’t know what the V-chip is?
You should. In the past three weeks Campaign alone has devoted four
articles to it and all the major broadsheets and other marketing press
have given it considerable, anguished space.
However, for those of you who’ve been on Mars or eating beef during the
last month, let me remind you. It’s an electronic gizmo that threatens
to become Canada’s most famous export since frostbite. What it does is
to sit in the back of tellies and change channel when a programme that
is too violent, sexy or linguistically challenged comes on.
But maybe you don’t care. Certainly, that seems to be the evidence so
Last month, in the splendour of the Department of National Heritage, the
Advertising Association hosted a seminar on the subject. Lord Inglewood,
the minister responsible for seeing the Broadcasting Bill through the
House of Lords, was there, the US experts were there and all the
important broadcast media were there. There was even a bloke from the
National Viewers and Listeners’ Association. What there weren’t were
advertising agencies. Of the 100 or so people a grand total of three
represented the cutting edge of the communications industry.
This display of indifference and ennui is perhaps occasioned by the
name. If it were called an A-chip agencies might be more interested. And
make no mistake, they should be. Because in this case ‘A’ is for
advertising; by far the most vulnerable target in the V-chip’s sights is
our bread and butter - the ad breaks themselves.
We know that people zap ads, particularly if the first in break looks
dull and if the remote control falls easily to hand. But still the
majority don’t, because they can’t be bothered or they might miss the
start of the next programme. The V-chip, though, is a zapper with a
perfect memory - that never lets up. If programmed to cut out
commercials, which is as easy as cutting out full-frontal nudity or
chainsaw atrocities, it will never let another one through until it is
This is why agencies should be paying attention. The V-chip is the
single biggest enemy commercials have faced since the advent of the
remote and the VCR. It is an oft-quoted maxim that ‘technologies change
people’s lives not governments’ and the V-chip is a perfect example of
So, what should agencies do, other than pay attention? There is little
possibility of an advertising lobby on its own reversing what is quite
likely to be an irresistible bandwagon for politicians of the soundbite
In the run-up to a general election it is hard to imagine that one of
the two main parties will not take up the V-chip to help establish a
‘decency/protect the children’ platform. Already, David Alton, the
Liberal Democrat MP, has included it in his amendment to the
There could doubtless be an attempt to make ad breaks an unavoidable
part of commercial television. But there is no great history of
legislators loving advertising and, with a Labour government likely,
this is an implausible moment for the affair to begin.
The single greatest defence British advertising has is what it has
always had - its inherent quality. People will programme ads out if they
don’t want them in. If, in other words, they can see no benefit of
information or entertainment in keeping them within their repertoire of
viewing. At the moment I believe that people watch ads on telly mostly
because they want to. The pressure is now really on to keep the V-chip,
and the on/off switch, at bay.