Media Lifeline: Ad-break stunts

TV channels and advertisers have become more daring with ad breaks in an effort to capture viewers.

June 2004: It had not been uncommon to see advertisers buy up whole breaks for a portfolio of different brands. But there's a new twist when MediaCom pioneers the "affinity break" - it takes a handful of clients that share something in common and packages them into breaks together. In the first instance, the MediaCom clients in question are Kwik-Fit, Churchill car insurance, Shell Optimax and Volkswagen - and the link here is obviously motoring.

August 2005: There's clearly also a growing appetite for the risky business of live advertising. One pioneer is Virgin Mobile, which, on the evening of 19 August 2005, the day before the start of the V Festival, runs live ads shot on-site offering 40 VIP tickets for the event. The ads, which had been hyped in the press and online, run between 8am and midnight - and generate a phenomenally high response rate.

May 2008: A near-legendary month for stunts. Not only do we see Honda's live parachute jump but also a "themed" break from Channel 4. Featuring clients known for their strong design heritage, such as Dyson, Nokia and Sony, it runs in the launch show of Grand Designs Live.

March 2009: pulls off the first high-profile, multichannel stunt, with its Mexican wave. It runs three ads consecutively on ITV, Channel 4 and then Five - and invites viewers to channel-hop in order to follow the action. The wave begins on 28 February at 9.50pm on ITV1 during The Bourne Supremacy, then continues on Channel 4 at 9.51pm during The Shawshank Redemption, and concludes in the 9.52 slot on Five during CSI:NY.

June 2010: Carling plots a series of live World Cup ads, the first during England v USA on ITV. In the ad, one of the group of mates, who has been trekking across the desert to get in a round of drinks, returns not just with the drinks but with the result of the match just aired.

Fast forward ...

September 2012: Themed breaks reign supreme, but Channel 4 is determined to put the icing on the cake. In a radical move, it comes up with the "general interest" break, whereby any advertiser, keen on the programming environment, the break ecology and the demographic profile likely to be watching a particular spot, can offer money to Channel 4 in the hope that their ad might be included, market conditions permitting, in that break.