Close-Up: Live Issue - Going live: advertising's latest trend?

Live TV spots give agencies a new creative canvas but there are downsides, Claire Billings says.

Initial, the entertainment arm of the Big Brother creator Endemol, and Live Advertising Limited are experimenting with a form of "live" TV ads, which they claim will revolutionise commercial breaks.

The ads are not strictly live - they will be made ten minutes ahead of transmission in order to gain regulatory approval, meaning they'll be transmitted "as live". Nevertheless, they have the potential to provide creative departments with a whole new creative canvas. As well as time-sensitive content, they could allow advertisers to run reality-style competitions with the possibility of interactivity.

However, the fast-turnaround nature of the ads raises concerns about their quality, which critics say could be gimmicky and devalue the brand as well as the TV medium. Andy Ward, the head of entertainment at Endemol, refutes this, saying that agencies will be involved in the process to ensure the ads remain part of a brand's strategy.

"We've created programming that brings people back to the TV after the ad break, now we're trying to create content that keeps them there throughout," he explains.

As reported in last week's Campaign, The Times, through its agency, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, is already developing a series of live commercials.

The benefits of live TV spots to a newspaper are immediately obvious - sales of newspapers are news-led, so TV spots could be used to promote breaking stories from the newspaper's correspondents around the globe.

Also, in the same way that newspapers can capitalise on the immediacy of live ads to promote the next day's edition, the price-driven airlines could also use the technique to advertise their remaining inventory and price promotions.

But there could be other opportunities. So far, the joint venture company claims to have held talks with a number of advertisers from other sectors, including a mobile phone operator and a soft drinks manufacturer.

The live ads could have a broader appeal by being relevant to the programmes that surround them - for example, a sports clothing or beer brand could run commercials with commentary on a sporting event during which the ad is shown. These could include a vote to predict the outcome of the game, which could be revealed at the end of the programme.

While live ads open up a range of possibilities, there are a number of potential pitfalls. The logistics of staging live commercials are complex - advocates say the most basic ads will only require a studio, a production team and presenters, but in order to ensure they comply with regulations, a representative from the BACC will also need to be present. In the event of any problems, a pre-recorded, approved commercial will also have to be prepared to run in its place.

The cost of airtime could also be a barrier. Unless television spots are booked well in advance, they incur massive premium rates, but Ward says that in some cases they'll pay for themselves by, for example, a premium-rate telephone service or text voting.

With the increased penetration of personal video recorders, live ads have the possibility to keep viewers engaged in the ad breaks. However, they'll need to maintain high creative standards to ensure that they do not diminish the brand and all eyes will be on what The Times does with its pioneering ads.

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CLIENT - Marc Sands, marketing director, Guardian Newspapers

"There are a number of issues which in my view prove it's a problem. It's either live or it isn't.

"At the moment it's as live, which presents questions in terms of its credibility - we have a website which is absolutely live, so it could, in fact, highlight that newspapers are not immediate. It may increase the credibility of newspapers as being in the thick of things, but, by the time you read it, the situation could have moved on.

"It requires careful handling of the creative so as not to create the impression it's make-believe live. I cannot imagine it being the mainstay of our communications strategy. But if it is used properly, it does have the potential to enhance credibility."

CONTENT EXPERT - Martin Bowley, chief executive, Amplified

"The prevailing dominance of live, reality programming is linked to huge voting numbers so it's surprising there aren't more live ads or as-live ads on TV already.

"Many of the most popular live reality TV shows are aired on a Saturday night. Now that Sundays are the most popular shopping day, this could benefit retailers wanting to promote a sale or promotion.

"Using live TV ads will be effective as part of a brand's ad strategy and allow it to create something over and above its existing campaign.

"It makes television as a medium more exciting again - for the audience and those involved in making it, because it puts more pressure on them."

REGULATOR - Ron Coomber, head, Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre

"The risk lies with the broadcaster. From our point of view, we're having discussions with broadcasters and producers and we're trying to help. You can't comply a live ad, you can only approve the proposal. The biggest issue is separation. A newspaper wanting to publicise a scoop on a celebrity couldn't use a celebrity in its commercial who appeared in the programme. Separation rules apply to people and formats. The ad has to be obviously different from the TV programme.

"All the normal ad codes apply. If something goes wrong on air, complaints go to the Advertising Standards Authority. Broadcasters need to think about this before they take them on."

CREATIVE - Kate Stanners, executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi

"As an industry, the issue has to be about quality control - we need to be clever with live ads. If it's overdone and care isn't taken, there is a danger it could be reduced to a bit of QVC-style content. It has real value, but only if used discriminately.

"If done correctly it has the potential to be a nice new tool in our range, especially at a time when we're trying to make TV relevant in the world of Sky+ and PVRs. There's also an element of risk and surprise.

"The challenge for TV is to be as entertaining as possible and that involves a lot of craft: something that has music, dialogue and activity. That's where ads add value to the communications strategy."

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