Katherine Levy: Broadcasters take note - great TV needs to be sold as such

By Katherine Levy, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 12 April 2012 08:00AM

So Channel 4 has received flak for its marketing of its new series The Undateables. If you haven't seen it, the programme charts the obstacles that disabled people have in forming romantic relationships.

Katherine Levy: Broadcasters take note - great TV needs to be sold as such

I hear it is brilliant and that it not only helps tackle the taboo of disability, but also hits on all the touchpoints of good TV: it is emotional, it shocks and it even makes you laugh. It sounds like exactly the sort of stuff that Channel 4 should be showing.

I say I have heard it is brilliant because I haven't watched it myself. I was put off by a poster campaign that Channel 4's usually brilliant in-house creative department cooked up to sell it. Waiting for the Tube recently, my jaw dropped at the sight of a 48-sheet featuring pictures of disabled people (one in a wheelchair) with the title "The Undateables" blazoned across it. I had never heard of it but, within a split second, I had decided the programme was exploiting the vulnerable people it features.

What a shame, then, that this thoughtful documentary has not been matched by marketing support that connects it to the thoughtful audience it was destined for. This is important. Britain creates some great TV, but in limited quantities, so we should ensure that the good stuff is sold to the public in a way that makes advertisers proud.

It is the second time this year that Channel 4 has come under fire for its marketing. Its "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier" activity to support Big Fat Gypsy Weddings received more than 300 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority saying it was offensive and racist. Honda, which sponsors Channel 4's documentary output, was reported as being worried about its association with the show (though a Honda spokesperson later denied this).

The ASA cleared the ad campaign of breaking its code, but is now considering whether it might investigate the marketing for The Undateables following complaints to the regulator. Channel 4 says that both the marketing and the programme aim to "challenge preconceptions about disability" and that the disabled people who featured in the programme were happy with the marketing campaign - surely a moot point if it nevertheless causes offence.

It seems a media owner's ability to market content responsibly is under scrutiny more than ever before. And at a time when the national press is under pressure to prove it is capable of self-regulating - or even semi-regulating - its own editorial content, media owners should be mindful of creating and marketing their content appropriately. Because, while risk-taking is welcome, British media owners also need to be careful to avoid unpalatable content or marketing. Striking this balance would make advertisers that work with them even prouder of their offerings.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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