Media Forum: Is new ITV ad on the money?

Does its 'beach' commercial push the right buttons, Alasdair Reid asks.

"Beach", ITV's new branding commercial, which launched last week, is either a moodily symbolic contribution to global warming anxiety (bored kids on a mizzly seashore throw stones into the sky, breaking up the cloud cover to let glorious beams of sunshine come flooding through) or a timely reminder that (as the company itself insists) ITV1 stands for "the most entertaining, upbeat, optimistic programming in the UK".

One thing is sure, though - there will be no escape. This is a major initiative. The film will be scheduled into ITV breaks (including a generous helping of peaktime) until midsummer, racking up 600 TVRs in the process, and will run in cinemas and on ITV-owned websites across the same period.

Created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty and directed by Rupert Sanders, this sumptuously crafted, filmic, long-length commercial will seek to remind viewers that ITV (and ITV1, in particular) remains one of the UK's best-loved media brands - one that is, in the words of David Pemsel, ITV's group marketing director, "synonymous with optimism and universal shared experiences". And the commercial aim is to showcase "how powerful the medium of television remains and why brands should use television to communicate their messages".

If you were being niggardly, you might wish to question ITV's decision to launch such a lavish campaign at this point. It's hardly likely to improve ratings performance, for instance. Downturns, by their very nature, tend to park more people in front of their tellies for longer - and ITV's audience figures will surely continue to reflect that, with or without a brooding film.

On the other hand, it's equally possible to see this as an exemplary expression of confidence and optimism - and the media sector surely can't get enough of that sort of attitude. So, is this the right sort of initiative at the right sort of time?

We'll see, Ian Armstrong, Honda's manager of customer communications, says. It looks as if ITV is embarking on a "masterbrand" strategy, he reckons. That's brave - but it requires long-term commitment and discipline to ensure the efforts of the whole organisation are aligned to the brand positioning.

He adds: "It will be interesting to see whether consumers can regard TV in that way - they're far more used to the tactical approach of programme promotions. So it will also be interesting to see how ITV integrates the masterbrand with programme promotions. It shows confidence to embark on a masterbrand strategy - but we'll have to see if it can be sustained."

That view is echoed somewhat by Will Collin, a founder of Naked Communications, who argues it also has to be embedded in a broad range of communications initiatives. He adds: "ITV is right to use its own channels to demonstrate its strengths - but that's not enough on its own. ITV is also right to remind people of its strengths and to re-evoke or reignite an emotional response, rather than seeking a rational response. On the other hand, aspects of the imagery in this film are almost unsettling and it will be interesting to see what the broad response is."

But Chris Hayward, a managing partner at VivaKi Trading, has few such reservations. He states: "This is a good initiative. I think we should all welcome anything that doesn't present the current economic situation as the end of the world. So this is a great message to send out, not just to viewers but to advertisers too."

There are others, though, who have reservations about the creative work. Tony Manwaring, the creative director of Initiative's Lab, concludes: "The allegory was blatant and obvious. It's a single-minded and simple proposition but it sells the message in a slow and self-indulgent way, so I'm not sure it's going to repay more than a couple of viewings. It didn't feel as if it was going to take me any further - eg. to any sort of a back story there might be on the web. So it seems two-dimensional in that respect, but I applaud what ITV is doing."

MAYBE - Ian Armstrong, manager of customer comms, Honda

"This shows faith - and I applaud that. I think it also succeeds in delivering high levels of emotional attachment. But people don't change their minds about brands overnight."

MAYBE - Will Collin, founder, Naked Communications

"I have to say, I don't know what to make of this film at all. It's certainly very high-concept, isn't it? This sort of creative approach runs the risk of inviting cynicism from some parts of the audience."

YES - Chris Hayward, managing partner, VivaKi Trading

"It captures the spirit of the moment. Times are hard but we have to look at the bright side - and ITV is doing its bit. It's still in there producing good programmes. That's in everyone's interests."

YES - Tony Manwaring, creative director, Lab

"It feels old-fashioned, selling the message in a slow and self-indulgent way. But despite any reservations, this sort of thing has to be a good idea. I appreciate what ITV is up to, I see what it's trying to achieve - and, in that respect, it succeeds. It is uplifting."