Campaign Promotion: The event - Getting TV talked about

Television's 'blank canvas' impressed a new generation of planners at The Plannertarium 2010.

Asking young people to break rules and rebel against the norm should be as easy as falling off a log. But not when this involves tinkering with youthful media planners' unshakeable faith in the new gospel of digital media. It was a challenge facing the speakers from the worlds of TV, advertising, PR and marketing at last week's Plannertarium, run by Channel 4, in association with Campaign, and held at The Vineyard in Berkshire.

For the audience of twentysomething planners, drawn from the top UK media agencies, the days when TV was the default shorthand have gone. Online plays a part in any media planner's thinking - and, in particular, social media. The message from The Plannertarium's more experienced hands was: yes, we know that brands exist in social media, but TV advertising is what put them there.

The "talkability" and creativity of TV ads are what keeps brands in that social space, Andy Barnes, Channel 4's sales director, argued as he slide-tackled the myths around TV advertising. Expense, for one, is no longer an issue. "TV is 20 per cent cheaper now," he said.

The ability to generate buzz around brand advertising was the theme of the third Plannertarium, Mike Parker, the head of strategic sales and commercial marketing at Channel 4, said. "How can we create TV advertising which is talked about ... and thereby more effective for advertisers?"

First up, you need brave clients subverting conventions to give consumers a deeper experience. Parker showed how Ikea did so in its narrative ads earlier this year, involving a kitchen being made over during three consecutive commercial breaks, much to the surprise of the absent home-owner.

Ad breaks are not traditionally known for their sense of jeopardy, but this too can be turned on its head. Ian Armstrong, the communications strategy director at Honda Europe, explained how Honda did so in spectacular style with the help of Channel 4 in 2008.

In a single commercial break, Honda staged the first live ad on UK television, featuring skydivers leaping out of a plane and linking up to form the letter "H". "This was a media-led idea," Armstrong said, "as our creative agency didn't want to do it."

Other speakers echoed the need for media buyers to eschew caution. Steve Henry, a co-founder of the legendary agency HHCL, was part of the team that made memorably irreverent ads for brands such as Tango. "Clients think safe is safe," he said. "But average ads are not safe and are a criminal waste of the client's money."

A dramatic use of airtime is one thing, but how do we know that these efforts are being carried into brand conversations on social media? TV is the second most favourite topic of conversation among friends and family, Thinkbox's chief executive, Tess Alps, revealed. This sharing aspect of TV means there are "real opportunities" to link TV advertising and social media, with the Comparethemarket.com meekat online fan group a "brilliant example".

The fame element of advertising is not just ripe for social media, but for PR too. James Herring, a co-founder of Taylor Herring, highlighted the PR value of Virgin Atlantic's 25th anniversary "still red hot" ad featuring air stewardesses strutting in time to an 80s music track. The ad generated just 24 complaints about sexism, but generated acres of media coverage.

Planners are time-poor and as The Plannertarium enters its third year and passes its 100-graduate mark, it's worth examining the event's popularity. Undoubtedly, it's partly the mix of a new generation of media stars, ad agency royalty and brave-hearted clients.

But for the planner attendees, who must compete to gain a coveted place, it is also about the one chance in their packed year to immerse themselves in the latest thinking on media.

At the start, Parker had promised "a different view about TV by the end of the day". Had this mission been achieved? Monica Majumdar, a senior executive at Starcom MediaVest and part of the team that won the day's Plannertarium challenge, agreed that it was.

Majumdar was struck by Armstrong's Honda live ad presentation. "It's good to be encouraged to do things differently, such as breaking up the traditional TV spot, and we shouldn't be afraid to look at TV in a different way," she said, as the event closed for another year. "I can now see that TV advertising is a blank canvas and, as media planners, we're not just stuck with the same formats."

Report by Noelle McElhatton.


"I love to see the conversations that television - programmes and ads - provoke online. They offer privileged insight, and marketers can be part of them. But remember two things; only 6 per cent of brand conversations happen online; the 77 per cent that happen face-to-face, particularly during shared TV viewing, can also be leveraged. And don't confuse cause and effect; the best way to get online brand conversations started is to do something remarkable offline." - Tess Alps, chief executive, Thinkbox

"The media planning principle is about sticking to your guns. If you've got a really strong proposition that you know will make a difference, learn to manage the objections your ad agencies may raise." - Ian Armstrong, communications strategy director, Honda Europe

"Planners spend a lot of time with data, but it can be antagonistic to creativity and instinct. Football is now over-analysed and it's why we ended up with an underwhelming World Cup." - Steve Henry, creative consultant, author and non-executive director

"You need to put PR in at the start of your media planning process. You can't retro-fit it in. Also, get your casting right. If you can't get a genuinely famous star such as Cheryl Cole or David Beckham, think about reviving one such as John Lydon or Iggy Pop." - James Herring, co-founder, Taylor Herring.