EDITORIAL: Has the time come for ET to go home?

Just as BT had to pull down the curtain on Bob Hoskins when his advice that 'it's good to talk' became tedious and irrelevant so the time may have come for it to put ET back on his airborne bike.

Just as BT had to pull down the curtain on Bob Hoskins when his advice that 'it's good to talk' became tedious and irrelevant so the time may have come for it to put ET back on his airborne bike.

The engaging alien with the seemingly magic touch no longer looks equipped to be the all-encompassing symbol of BT at a time when the communications revolution is already light years away from when ET first came to BT's aid only 19 months ago.

ET's task at that time was relatively straightforward: to sweep away techno-fear among hundreds of BT customers by showing that communications technology was easy to use.

His apologists claim that ET has been demonstrably successful in achieving this aim. Cynics argue that it would be hard to fail with advertising so ubiquitous and sustained by such a colossal budget.

For BT, though, the question of whether or not to renew the ET contract is a real conundrum. In less than two years' time Steven Spielberg's reworking of the ET movie, complete with new scenes and stunning special effects, will relaunch ET to a new generation.

The temptation for BT to hang on in the hope of riding a massive new wave of interest in ET must be enormous but should be resisted. For one thing, the ET campaign has a breathless look about it. Fears that Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO would not be able to sustain its potency with so much TV and supporting print work to be produced are proving to be well founded.

It could hardly be otherwise with BT proving to be such a hungry advertiser whose appetite will always be difficult to satisfy while maintaining creative standards.

For another, the sheer scale of the BT campaign means that familiarity is always in danger of breeding contempt and a compelling need for constant refreshment.

The fact is that BT is no longer the single and easily definable brand that ET can personify. BT chiefs have accepted that the best way of unlocking the company's value to investors is to give managers greater independence in the running of their divisions. However, in doing so, BT has allowed for those divisions to be spun off.

The problems and challenges facing these newly autonomous operations are likely to prove too vast to be embraced by a single over-arching campaign. It would be hard to believe that AMV, no slouch when it comes to forward planning, hasn't got alternatives up its sleeve



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