Top Performers of 2005: Advertiser of the Year - Channel 4

From its beautiful "floating 4" idents to its consistently strong print work, Channel 4 has proved itself a witty and engaging Advertiser of the Year.

Advertiser of the Year is often the most challenging category to win. There are few UK advertisers that do truly great work across a range of brands. However, in 2005, Channel 4 achieved that feat.

Over the past 23 years, Channel 4 has created a very clear positioning for itself. Latterly, and in the past year in particular, this has been down to the marketing chief, Polly Cochrane (bottom, right), and her team.

If there was one piece of marketing from which the whole channel's positioning hung this year, it was the breath-taking idents directed by Bret Foraker that first appeared in January. Floating objects ranging from hay bales to electricity pylons to balconies in a run-down estate were fleetingly brought together to form Channel 4's unmistakable number 4. Gently mesmerising music and the build-up to the objects piecing together to form a 4, made the idents intriguing and thoroughly watchable.

The strength of the work led to Foraker being signed as a commercials director with RSA Films.

But this was only the start. The broadcaster continued its popular series of ads that feature a rapid succession of the stars of its programmes answering the same question. This year, we discovered that Jimmy Carr lost his virginity aged 26, Jack Osbourne at 14. Phil Spencer's worst habit is farting; Ozzy Osbourne wishes his dick was bigger, and Sarah Beeny wishes her bosoms were smaller. The ads follow a simple and engaging formula that brings the performers and presenters to life as individuals.

Channel 4 also invested heavily in the promotion of its specific shows. We all waited eagerly for the launch of Desperate Housewives and Lost, two cult series that were launched from obscurity using outdoor, cinema and on-air advertising.

Its promotion of Jamie's School Dinners, which featured the chef speaking earnestly while childish graffiti was superimposed on his face and body, had the desired effect. Enough people tuned in to have the programme's findings on school catering become a national concern. It led to a change in government policy on school meals and dominated the headlines for several weeks.

But it wasn't only in broadcast promotion that Channel 4 excelled. Its print work was just as strong; it made a good showing at Campaign's Poster Awards in October. Channel 4's special build to promote The Simpsons, its mock Last Supper execution to support Shameless, and its print work for Jamie's School Dinners were recognised on the night.

In the autumn, its print work to support Jamie's Great Italian Escape and Gordon Ramsay's The F Word was also strong.

The aforementioned work was produced by Channel 4's in-house creative agency, 4Creative, run by Richard Burdett. However, the channel does enlist external agencies when necessary. To support the launch of More 4 on 10 October, it called a pitch and went on to appoint DDB London.

The agency positioned More 4 as the "adult entertainment channel" and used porn-style graphics in its promotion. The pivotal TV ad opened with Channel 4 News' Jon Snow saying "Warning. This channel contains elements that are ..." before splicing in various stars from the new channel completing the sentence.

The channel's first month on air saw it almost equal BBC4's share of audience. While Channel 4 attracted an average of 0.66 per cent of TV viewers in October, BBC4 brought in 0.69 per cent.

Channel 4 also demonstrated commitment to advertising in its promotion of E4. It devised regular on-air promotions, often using the channel's purple livery as a branding device. The launch of "It's a nine thing" in January backed the station's 9.00pm programming strand with a press, poster, radio and television campaign.

Altogether, Channel 4's marketing efforts helped it draw in the kinds of audiences that also made it Campaign's Medium of the Year. The channel's viewing figures were strong in an era of media fragmentation. In a period where its terrestrial rivals suffered audience declines, Channel 4's impacts among the ABC1 adult audience rose by 3.66 per cent year on year. In addition, there was strong growth among 16- to 34-year-old viewers, a category in which its rivals' share shrank significantly. In total, its peak share of viewing among 16- to 34-year-olds rose by 11 per cent year on year to 15.4 per cent.

Unilever provided Channel 4 with strong competition for the Advertiser of the Year title. The FMCG giant has a reputation for not only being one of the world's biggest advertisers, but also one of the most enlightened.

It has a reputation for going outside its "club" networks to embrace creatively led local agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty and HHCL United.

Many of its creative highlights in 2005, however, came from Lowe. There was Sure's "Stunt City", Domestos' talking germs as well as a strong campaign for Hellmann's mayonnaise promoting a "fat dollop".

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, meanwhile, produced "pea car" to promote the nutritional value of Birds Eye's frozen foods. It picked up a gold Lion in Cannes for last year's "getting dressed" Lynx spot, and released the Tom Carty-directed "martial arts" film for Lynx in February.

The other contender for the Advertiser of the Year accolade was Diageo.

Its Pimm's brand enjoyed significant advertising support and the likeable "Harry" character returned to TV screens in campaigns from Mother in both the summer and winter. The work has made significant strides in repositioning Pimm's as a mainstream brand.

Diageo was also behind what was arguably the best interactive ad of the year, Smirnoff's "triple distilled" spot, directed by Fredrik Bond through MJZ. The ad, by JWT and Weapon7, was a brave and well-executed experiment with the interactive medium. Smirnoff's year-on-year figures show a sales increase in the off trade of 10 per cent.

But perhaps Diageo's most exciting work this year came from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO in support of Guinness. "Noitulove", directed by Danny Kleinman, saw the brand move closer to its great advertising heritage.

Recent winners: Tesco (2004); Honda (2003); Scottish Courage (2002); COI Communications (2001); Heinz (2000).

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