Media Perspective: How live event TV is shaping the social media conversation

The average TV viewer watching the former MP Ann Widdecombe perform a lumpen dance routine, dragged by some unfortunate in a frilly shirt around the shiny floor, or listening to the eccentric retired PE teacher Wagner Carrilho belt out a strangulated version of a rock classic in his "vampire" accent might struggle at first to see the connection with the clash of two sporting teams in the Super Bowl.

But in their own, and peculiarly camp, British ways, these two performers in their respective BBC and ITV formats have become live event TV - for two different demographics - in a similar way that the National Football League showpiece causes viewers in the US to stop and take note.

It's not a particularly original observation - after all, it's been known for years that mass-market formats that must be watched live are the only way to achieve big audiences and, other than sport, which is male-biased, these can be difficult to find. It's something that Channel 4's Big Brother achieved to a degree. And, as everyone is equally aware, for commercial broadcasters it's essential to avoid ad skipping.

But there are learnings that agencies are taking from the rise of such formats that have applied in the US for some time. For example, The X Factor has become the shop window for the biggest and best of British advertising, with Yeo Valley, Ikea and Virgin Atlantic all showcasing their new ads in it.

This might not seem that surprising either - the biggest brands want to be in the biggest shows to get the biggest audiences. But what is interesting is how Yeo Valley is using The X Factor as its primary advertising vehicle, with the rest of its ad budget deployed in on-pack promotions. It just runs the same ad at the start of the first ad break on a weekly basis. And that's the entirety of the TV campaign.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which created and negotiated the deal with ITV, is treating the ad as a piece of entertainment in its own right, much like US advertisers do with their Super Bowl spots. What gives it extra depth is the way that social media has attached itself to the campaign.

It was quickly picked up and started trending on Twitter (much like The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing) - there are now even Tweets in excited anticipation of the ad's appearance, showing that social media is but a soundtrack for something more interesting that is happening elsewhere.

This is not necessarily a weakness - in fact, in my view, ensuring that there is a social media strategy is an essential part of most media campaigns. But in order to get people to "participate", there must be something worth participating in. At the moment, appropriate TV creative - with effective media buying - is leading social media more effectively than Anton du Beke is in hauling Widdecombe around the studio.


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