Media Lifeline: Ad break innovations

Creative breakthroughs have included event spots, such as a live skydive, and themed breaks.

December 1998: There had been several isolated examples of advertisers moving to "own" whole ad breaks with epic commercials - for instance, Hanson's "changes" ad in the late 80s. Then, in the 90s, there are several multi-brand initiatives - for instance, Unilever (incidentally, the first ever advertiser on ITV in 1955) buys up the whole of the first ad break on ITV2.

May 2007: Other multibrand initiatives revolve around individual agencies - such as Mindshare's move to buy up the entire first break of the return of Saturday night Premier League highlights to ITV (in August 2001) on behalf of its advertisers. But rethinking the thematic structure of television advertising gets a new impetus when Channel 4's strategic sales unit, headed by Mike Parker, puts a new focus on innovating the break in 2007.

May 2008: Arguably, the strategic sales unit's highest-profile coup is the live skydive ad for the launch of the Honda Accord. The three-minute spot, created by 4Creative, features a team of skydivers linking swiftly up to spell out the Honda name while hurtling towards terra firma.

December 2008: But other initiatives are more lateral and thematic. For instance, a spot in Grand Designs Live, in which Channel 4 flags up the fact that the break will include ads for brands associated with great design, including Smart Car and Dyson. At Christmas 2008, it also runs a Baz Luhrmann-themed break, including his own ad for his film Australia plus ads he directed for Chanel and the Australian Tourist Board.

February 2009: runs three ads consecutively on ITV, Channel 4 and Five. The first of the 60-second installments breaks on ITV at 9.50pm on Saturday, 28 February, before segueing into the next, which breaks straight after on Channel 4, and then the third, on Five.

Fast forward ...

March 2009: Now there's a new breakthrough in event advertising, when Channel 4 pioneers ad breaks just before each race within its horse-racing coverage. A bookmaker can take solus possession of such an event break and has the facility to feature real-time betting odds. It's a concept applicable to other events - ITV, for instance, plans to offer a similar service asking viewers to bet on who's about to score next in FA Cup games.