Media: The Digital UK campaign

A huge ad push will prepare the UK for the switch-over.

According to Digital UK's own estimates, one in five households in the UK could remain hostile to the whole notion of digital TV, right up into the switch-over period, which begins in 2008 and ends in 2012.

After that, the refuseniks will be even more aggrieved - they won't have any television whatsoever, the analogue signal having been switched off.

Unless, of course, Digital UK, the marketing body formed by the TV industry at the Government's behest, can succeed in persuading them to join the 21st century. Last week, we moved a step closer to the real hoop-la when MediaCom was appointed the media agency for the campaign ahead.

A creative agency, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, is already in place and this week, Rapier was invited to join the roster. This is likely to be one of the biggest public information campaigns in recent memory.

Ford Ennals, Digital UK's chief executive, is unsurprisingly confident that all but a tiny minority are persuadable - but no-one, least of all Ennals, should underestimate the scale of the task. Currently, according to figures from Ofcom, 63 per cent of UK households have Sky Digital, Freeview or digital cable, with 200,000 more moving to digital each month.

The last 10 per cent or so, however, will be a tough proposition.

1. Digital UK, launched formally in September 2005, is the public-facing side of SwitchCo, an independent, not-for-profit company set up by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, five, Crown Castle and SDN in April 2005 at the behest of the Government and Ofcom.

2. Its boss, Ennals, has appointed two senior marketing executives: Beth Thoren, its director of communications (for- merly the BBC's head of digital marketing), and Jane Ostler, its head of marketing (formerly a digital guru at JWT and MindShare).

3. To date, digital TV take-up has been driven principally by BSkyB and the BBC. BSkyB kick-started the market in 2001 when it decided to kill off potential competition from ITV Digital by giving away set-top boxes. Freeview has two things going for it: the low entry cost of its equipment and the fact that the BBC has given over primetime promotional slots to promote digital terrestrial.

4. In September 2005, Tessa Jowell, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, announced a detailed regional switch-over schedule. It will begin with Border in the second half of 2008 and conclude with Tyne Tees and Ulster before the end of 2012.

5. Digital UK's marketing budget is likely to be around £20 million a year, split equally above and below the line. Below-the-line activity will include call centres, websites, door-drops and promotions in shopping malls, where consumers can experience the various hardware options. It has pledged to write to every household in the country at least twice and will work with councils, community groups and charities to identify vulnerable members of society who might need extra help with the change-over.

6. There will be a national awareness-raising ad campaign beginning this year. This will focus on television across all major commercial channels, with the BBC contributing promotional airtime slots.

7. The campaign will feature a robot called Digit-Al, voiced by the Little Britain star Matt Lucas. Digital UK hopes it will prove as much of a hit as the Johnny Vegas "monkey" campaign devised for the ill-fated precursor to Freeview, ITV Digital.

8. The Digital UK creative work will hopefully offer something more appetising than the BBC's recent promotion for digital. Its computer-generated animation of a head comprised of hundreds of mini-heads drew hundreds of complaints from viewers who called it "scary," "disgusting" and "psychotic".

9. There will also be regional activity timed appropriately for the switch-over date in each region. This activity will commonly comprise three phases.

The first phase will involve TV and door-drops, supplemented with regional press and radio. The middle phase will concentrate more on promotional activities in retail environments. And the final phase, which will return to a media-oriented approach, will have more emphasis on outdoor as a call to action.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

CONSUMERS

- This campaign turns many marketing conventions on their heads. Agencies and their clients are used to chasing after decent prospects: affluent consumers with a reasonable propensity to purchase the product.

- Digital refuseniks are, almost by definition, parsimonious in their spending habits (whether by choice or necessity) and hostile to many of the blandishments of the consumer economy, including advertising in general and new-technology marketing in particular.

- Targeting them won't be rocket science - they are heavy users of ITV1 - but tone of voice will be absolutely crucial. Rapier, MediaCom and AMV have an equal role to play in getting this right.

BROADCASTERS

- All broadcasters say they are poised to take advantage of a wholly digital television landscape but few will contemplate Digital UK's efforts with as deep a sense of ambiguity as ITV.

- Owing to the fact that phases of the campaign will need to reach older and more downmarket viewers on a regional basis, ITV1 can expect a mini-bonanza - but only because it seems a last link with a disappearing world. That in itself should give the network much pause for thought.

THE GOVERNMENT

- Switch-over is scheduled to finish in the year of the London Olympics, when the focus of the whole world will be on our infrastructure. If this campaign fails, it could be an electoral disaster for New Labour.