Media Forum: Did ITV's marketing work?

As ITV's marketing chief resigns, what is his legacy, Alasdair Reid asks.

Life's a beach; then they appoint Peter Fincham over your head. For David Pemsel, it must have been a bit like the tide coming in. At Blackpool, say, or one of those Northern resorts that hasn't managed to hold on to its Blue Flag status.

Last week, Pemsel, ITV's marketing director for the past five years, announced it was time to move on (he will leave later this summer) following the news that Fincham, ITV's director of television, is to be given new responsibilities covering marketing too. It's part of a wider reshuffle following the arrival of ITV's new chief executive, Adam Crozier.

So this is very much the end of an era. And, of course, the highlight of Pemsel's time at ITV did indeed involve a beach. Pemsel's beach was a magical fairytale place, rather like the beach in the film Local Hero; and it was the backdrop, or perhaps the star, of one of the most ambitious promotional films ever shot by, or for, a commercial television company in this country.

A sumptuous production created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, it was part of a campaign to brand ITV, notably ITV1, as "the brighter side", a destination where all of our lives become cheerier. It was a brave move, many commentators said, especially as it launched in April 2009, with the worst of the recession looming. It was seen in some quarters as a statement of faith not just in ITV in particular, but also in the power and endurance of the television medium as a whole.

It wasn't Pemsel's only achievement, naturally. Under his guidance, individual channels in the ITV digital family became better differentiated and there were notable campaigns for high-profile programme launches - for instance, the Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach double-header.

And, of course, there's been lots of activity around ratings jewels such as The X Factor. Fincham will probably want to focus even more on particular programmes rather than larger and more abstract branding issues - but his determination to go down that road will surely depend on his assessment of the legacy he has been left by the Pemsel era.

Some, though, are willing to question the nature of that legacy. Such as Paul Evans, the head of media EMEA at Xbox, who states: "On the face of it, ITV's marketing efforts in recent years could be regarded as positive. From a consumer point of view, you might feel that the ITV1 brand felt refreshed and re-energised through 'the brighter side' - a much-needed shot in the arm. But, as with any vanity ad campaign, there was a danger of overpromise and under-delivery."

Evans suggests that exposure to the ITV brand experience served as a reality check in that respect. But that's certainly not the view of Kate Cox, the head of creative communications at MPG Media Contacts. She says: "I think ITV's marketing efforts have been very much up to scratch. From a broad perspective, I've liked the way that, in more recent activity, 'the brighter side' positioning has been used in support of appointment-to-view programming - it has morphed into something more specific. In terms of individual channels, there's perhaps more work to be done. ITV3 and ITV4 are still a bit indistinct - but, on the other hand, it's difficult for a mass-market broadcaster to be too niche."

However, Andrew Stephens, a partner at Goodstuff Communications, isn't so sure. He reckons there's been some good work in clarifying the positioning of the four ITV channels - yet he maintains that "the brighter side" was a strategically flawed proposition.

He explains: "Viewers don't take sides any more in an on-demand world. They watch stuff they like when they want, regardless of which side it comes from. Compare ITV's approach to that of channels such as E4, History and Living, which continue to innovate. ITV, meanwhile, reaffirms its traditional positioning by commissioning big-budget TV ads and expensive ad agencies."

Absolutely, Nigel Walley, the managing director of Decipher, agrees. He says there's a digital angle to all of this that shouldn't be overlooked. He concludes: "If you look at, say, The X Factor, is activity on YouTube part of the promotion or part of the show? I think that often the two things are set up in opposition to each other, whereas the reality is that they can drive people back to the broadcast content as well as enhancing it. So you can argue that you need to have marketing people who celebrate that blurring. You need to be able to push through all the distribution clutter - and it's a complex challenge."

NO - Paul Evans, head of media, EMEA, Xbox

"The 'brighter side' campaign veiled a product lacking in new ideas, relevance and the ability to connect with new and existing audiences. Overall, the experience was reminiscent of a bad cappuccino - all froth and no substance."

YES - Kate Cox, head of creative comms, MPG Media Contacts

"Commercially, last year was a difficult year for ITV, so 'the brighter side' initiative was, in the circumstances, a very upbeat and confident statement. It has been effective for ITV as a broadcaster and for morale."

MAYBE - Andrew Stephens, partner, Goodstuff Communications

"ITV is bursting at the seams with talent and content - so just think what ITV could have done with the money spent on 'the brighter side'. It was a massive missed opportunity."

MAYBE - Nigel Walley, managing director, Decipher

"If you look at something such as The X Factor, there's a blurring between what's content and what's marketing. TV companies need more people who can celebrate the blurring of distinctions - and that could be an interesting factor in all of this."

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