The big problem with televised sporting events is getting
advertising visibility. It’s usually a game of two halves, after all.
All that ad-free action, followed by a huge interval during which most
of your audience is queuing for a pee because they’ve all been guzzling
lager during the action.
There are one or two ways around this - usually involving a pretty heavy
involvement in the sport itself. Sponsor the event, sponsor the
coverage, sponsor everything that moves and every stitch of clothing it
And then there’s good old stadium perimeter advertising and its modern
cousin - painting your logo on the pitch itself. The main point is that
you get your message into the programming one way or another.
During the recent BSkyB coverage of the Australia versus England Rugby
Test, we saw the latest twist - virtual advertising. This uses digital
image manipulation to insert ads and logos into live sporting
You can have virtual perimeter ads or virtual pitch logos: the
technology is so clever that players appear to move in front of these
ads. In theory, you shouldn’t notice the illusion.
Flexibility is, perhaps, the greatest attraction of the virtual
Billboards can be made to appear in the middle of grandstands without
blocking the views of spectators. On-pitch logos can be ’turned down’
during play so they don’t distract television viewers. You can change
the message or run animated graphics - though the governing bodies of
most sports would probably not be too happy about that.
Patrick Burton, the group media manager of Allied Domecq, believes the
BSkyB exercise was a success: ’It was an experiment and the technology
is so complex that we were pleased it worked at all. But it has such
potential that we wanted to be in there at the very beginning. Our site
appeared to be a 20m by 8m board, high up in the stadium. On screen, it
looked real. We’ve seen what it can do, now we can take it forward.’
Allied Domecq rotated ads for a number of its brands, including
Laphroaig, Teacher’s, Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Cockburn’s port. The
messages on the virtual billboard can also be tailored for individual
territories - and that’s an aspect that excites agencies too.
Graham Bednash, a principal of Michaelides & Bednash, comments: ’You can
have different brands featured in the different territories the
transmission goes to. With digital TV there’s even the prospect not only
of tailoring your message by region, but almost by each individual TV
It also means broadcasters and sports bodies can sell perimeter
advertising more efficiently. The games of the Dutch football club,
Ajax, for instance, are shown around the world. Much of the perimeter
advertising is taken by a Dutch bank that only wants to target the Dutch
market. On the new system, those ads can be overlaid, as appropriate,
market by market.
But Jon Wilkins, creative communications director of New PHD, believes
there might be a downside: ’It’s bad for smaller advertisers who use
perimeter advertising but can’t afford big broadcast deals. Broadcasters
will tie up big deals and the big advertisers won’t want to let smaller
ones in on it. It could lead to a power struggle between broadcasters
and sporting governing bodies.’
But all of that is academic if the technique is obtrusive. It may help
combat the clutter in half-time ad breaks and the lack of attention of
viewers, but is it too distracting?
Burton doesn’t believe so: ’We intend to research viewers’ response to
the technique but it was certainly less obtrusive than the Schweppes
logo that was actually painted on to the pitch.’ We shall see. Now all
we need is the technology to make a virtual England team look as if it
can play cricket.