Opinion: Perspective - Finding new ways to cheat those TV ad avoiders

The TV ad has been dying for at least 25 years now, if you've a mind to listen to the media pundits who always get excited about (and make money pontificating on) these things.

Back in the early 80s, when video recorders first hit UK homes, the freedom the technology offered from the diktats of the TV scheduler was assumed to be the beginning of the end for TV advertising as we'd known and loved it since the 50s. Suddenly you could go to the ball, or the pub, or watch the other side, and still keep up with Coronation Street by video taping it and playing back later. And - music to the ears of the doomsayers - you could also fast-forward through the ads.

TV advertising did not die, of course. It barely even wheezed. VCR technology was never particularly user-friendly and compared with the speeds at which Sky+ users can skate through the ad breaks these days, VCR fast-forwarding is a leisurely stroll.

Suddenly, though, things are not looking quite so healthy for the ad break; the doomsayers are back and this time they might just have a point.

Armed with personal video recorder technology, viewers are now time-shifting their viewing, not because they have something better to do but simply because they don't want to watch the ads. With Sky+ you can start watching a show ten minutes after it actually begins, zoom through all the ad breaks and finish watching it at the same time as all the poor suckers who laboured through the ads.

Time-shifting is becoming less and less about deferred viewing, and increasingly about ad avoidance.

All of this has enormous implications for the advertising industry. For starters, we'll have to make ads people actually, actively want to watch - which for some agencies and for some brands will be a challenge hitherto unmet.

And all of this also lends real significance to this week's Ofcom statement on product placement. Product placement has always occupied a rather murky corner of the marketing mix. Technically against the rules, it's nevertheless a reality of TV economics: programme sets have to be filled (as cheaply as possible) with real products and choosing which cars, beer or cereal to feature is already the subject of intricate negotiation, if not money exchange.

As Ofcom's chief, Stephen Carter, pointed out at the ISBA conference this week, product placement in movies has been around for years, to no ill-effect. Now Ofcom is willing to consider tearing up the ban on product placement in entertainment-based television shows and let commercial forces officially in.

Finding ways to work with programme-makers to ensure product placement goes beyond a crude name-check to really enhance a brand's credentials will be the real challenge for ad agencies. But along with developments in branded content (see page 17), product placement could prove to be one of the key ways to cheat the ad-avoiders.

Andy Law is slated to speak at the London Innovation Conference next week. His fellow speakers include Rachel Elnaugh, the founder of Red Letter Days, Tim Waterstone, the founder of the eponymous book store and Ian Livingstone, the founder of Eidos.

This impressive line-up will be talking under the heading: "Learn the secrets of business success." Given the turmoil that seems to have gripped Boymeetsgirl over recent weeks, Law will have a perspective on this subject from both ends of the wedge.

It has not been easy to get to the bottom of what's really happened at Boymeetsgirl, since the remaining founders have gone to ground and there seems to be a fault on the telephone lines into the office. But it's hardly surprising that the London Innovation Conference is preferring to bill Law as the founder of St Luke's - although that's an agency, you'll remember, he quit in similarly dramatic fashion in 2003.

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