Southern Europe: Anything goes

Less inhibited by the restrictions that stifle creative media use on UK TV, Italian and Spanish shops have room to experiment.

If Britain's TV addicts should ever get frustrated by ad breaks, they should spare a thought for viewers in Italy and Spain. Marathon intervals of up to 20 minutes do not just give you time to make a cup of tea - you can take a shower and walk the dog, too.

Breaks can come every ten minutes or so and it is not unusual to see the same ad repeated in one break, even back to back.

In the UK, though, the TV advertising market is so tightly regulated we, as viewers at least, can count ourselves lucky. Even though the regulatory body Ofcom is being pressured to loosen the rules to allow media owners to be more flexible, change is still a long way off.

Advertisers looking to muscle in on programming using "beyond spot" methods still find their requests are falling on deaf ears. Advertisers can, for example, gift a TV station a batch of its products in the hope they'll use them on-air, but this process is still informal and no money can exchange hands.

This is perhaps why when there's talk of "creative media" in the UK, people tend to think of wacky ambient ideas such as branding petrol pumps or projecting Gail Porter on to the side of the Houses of Parliament.

They rarely mean anything that can be done on TV.

But the picture in Spain and Italy is very different. Jason Hayford, the international media manager at Media Planning, says: "For a start, the regulatory bodies in both markets enforce the rules with less vigour than in the UK. Plus, allowing advertisers more commercial freedom is a way for the TV stations to maintain share against other media, as well as against each other."

The nature of the media owner/agency relationship is also very different, Hayford explains. In the UK, ITV is unusually dominant and acts like it.

It takes half of available ad revenues, leaving buyers in a relatively weak bargaining position. But in Italy and Spain there is more competition and TV stations compete more on price. This has encouraged stations to be more co-operative and give agencies room to explore non-traditional routes.

But the biggest reason is clutter. TV advertisers in Spain and Italy are so desperate to stand out they're willing to try anything. The list opposite is a taster of what could be done if ITV and company would just relax a little bit.

SPAIN

- Pepsi's Johnny Twist

How do you surprise an audience with an ad when they are already being bombarded with dozens of them every hour? Pepsi's answer was to create a character who invaded live broadcasts to promote Pepsi Twist with a placard saying: "Taste it!" Last year, OMD Spain picked up an international gold Cannes Media Lion for the work after the character, Johnny Twist, became a cult figure with viewers.

- The commercial sitcom

Everyone loves a good sitcom - so what better format to use for a commercial? Going beyond the Nescafe "story in an ad" idea familiar to UK viewers, commercial sitcoms - a 60-second format introduced by Telecinco - have a regular schedule and weekly episodes. Telecinco has used it to promote Canon, with a series about a group of youths locked in a TV room - shown just before Big Brother - and to support the launch of the new Ford Fiesta.

- Ident morphing from Telecinco

In Spain, even a channel's ident is not safe from advertisers. One of the latest wheezes to come from TV commercial departments in recent years is "morphing" - the station's logo digitally transforms into that of a well-known brand. Telecinco - the pioneer of most of the country's new TV formats thanks to a special development division in shareholder Publiespana - recently lent its ident to Ford and the promotional push behind the 20th anniversary of ET the Extra-Terrestrial.

- Infomercials

Although Spanish channels seem to have few qualms about breaking the legal limit of 720 seconds of advertising an hour, it still helps to dress up ads in a way that will not catch the eye of the authorities. Hence infomercials, a 60-second format that combines editorial content with advertising, are increasingly popular, the likes of Land Rover taking full advantage. Variations on the theme include "infos", minute-long programmes with sponsored bumpers, and "infoconsejos", made up of 40 seconds of information and a 20-second ad.

- Corn Flakes' Cornelius MindShare took audacious use of television to a new level this year when it managed to place its client Kellogg in the middle of one of Spain's most venerable entertainment shows - the national broadcaster TVE1's 20-year-old Un, Dos, Tres ("One, Two, Three"). The agency introduced a Corn Flakes game into the programme, lasting up to eight minutes, of which only one is technically advertising - even though the Corn Flakes mascot, a cockerel called Cornelius, is present throughout.

by Jason Deign

ITALY

- Presenter stars in promos

If Jamie's Kitchen were bookended with Sainsbury's ads featuring the mockney TV chef, eyebrows would be raised in the UK. Not so in Italy.

Antonella Clerici, the presenter of Rai Uno's cooking programme La Prova del Cuoco, lent her celebrity to the canned tuna brand Palmera. Her programme was broken up by a series of six 60-second telepromotions for the brand, concluded by Clerici taking off home with her co-presenter, Daniela D'Angelo, to crack open a can of Palmera.

- Blink and you'll miss them

If you thought pop-ups on the internet were cause for irritation, imagine them on TV. Known as a "blink" or "overimpression", an advertiser can, with no warning, flash its logo on the screen, accompanied by a sharp "blink" sound. At an average cost of 2,500 euros, blinks, which can be fixed or moving, are typically bought by regional advertisers on local television who are unable to afford network TV prices. Forty of Italy's 700 local broadcasters offer this service.

- Mediaset's target spot

Mediaset developed the "spot mirati", or target spot, for its live football matches. A ten-second ad spot, permitted to be lengthened from seven seconds last year, runs during a match. The format of choice for sportswear brands, Puma used target spots during the Champions League last year, reaching seven million people. Preliminary heats cost 75,000 euros (£50,500), while a target spot in the final was 140,000 euros (£95,000 - roughly £5,000 more than a 30-second spot in the middle of Coronation Street).

- Flashing TV presenters The latest TV innovation in Italy sounds rather like a Benny Hill ketchand is rather aptly known as "flash". A TV presenter walks off his show to wax lyrical about the latest book, CD or travel offer - but a few conditions apply. A "commercial information" message must appear on-screen over his head, he must appear in a different studio and, to avoid blurring the editorial-commercial divide, the presenter must change into different clothes. A favourite of the watch brand Breil.

- The hybrid TV spot

"Diario", meaning diary, is half-regular ad, half-sponsorship. So called because an advertiser can only book a certain amount per week, a diary is a five-second still image positioned between the programme and a commercial break. The image takes up 7/8 of the screen, the other part filled with the TV station logo. Demand, according to Mediaset's sales house, Publitalia, outstrips supply by two to one.

by Stefania Medetti.

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