TV advertising’s 2021 choice: use or lose the genie
A view from Omar Oakes

TV advertising’s 2021 choice: use or lose the genie

The pandemic is encouraging brands and broadcasters to be more experimental and collaborative, Campaign's TV Advertising Summit heard yesterday. But will this continue post-Covid?

It often feels unseemly to talk about luck at work because we all like to focus on how much effort and experience people bring to their jobs through hard graft. But the Covid-19 pandemic, with its indiscriminate and wide-reaching impact on the advertising industry, brought the role of luck into stark focus as some industries won big (digital ecommerce) and some suffered the most (cinema and outdoor) because of the uneven impact of social distancing.

Then there’s TV, which would likely have had a much worse 2020 had it not been for many important changes that enabled the sector to perform much better than was expected. We saw big moves by the broadcasters to improve their ad sales offer for video-on-demand, ITV restructured its broadcast business to put linear broadcast and video-on-demand on an equal footing, and the major broadcasters became more flexible over booking deadlines.

I also happen to think the timing of yesterday’s TV Advertising Summit, hosted by Campaign and themed “reimagining TV for a connected future” was lucky, too.

Having just absorbed Boris Johnson’s “roadmap” for opening the country from Covid restrictions the night before, it felt like just the right time to think about how the industry will fare as we return to whatever the “new normal” looks like.

Will this huge shift in digital viewing consumption continue as we spend less time at home? Will the changes to how TV to the creation and production of video content, forced on the industry by the pandemic, remain?

For me, two themes stuck out more strikingly than an ultra-HD broadcast of RuPaul’s Drag Race - how advertisers and broadcasters seem much more willing to experiment and collaborate.

Matt Hill, director of research and planning at Thinkbox (pictured, below), revealed how in 2020 TikTok was responsible for an estimated 3.5% of all video viewing in the UK last year. That’s a staggering entry into the mainstream for a platform that most people had barely heard of two years ago.

Thinkbox also reminded us how there literally hundreds of new direct to consumer and ecommerce brands that came onto TV for the first time last year - partly thanks to the  work broadcasters have done to make TV more accessible and cheaper for brands that want to experiment on TV for the first time (although, the market collapsing in the Spring and delivering historically low prices helped, too).

We also saw a really interesting case study later in the morning from NIO cocktails, who ran their first addressable ad campaign last October. It was an intriguing insight into how they experimented with a premium-looking brand-building spot, but measured it as if it were a response ad. There was no call to action, no website link, but the brand trusted that if people were motivated by the ad they would seek it out on Google and its website would be good enough to convert curious customers into sales. 

The theme of collaboration was most apparent in a panel about the power of TV amid times of disruption with Lidl, Channel 4, and Omnicom media agencies Manning Gottlieb OMD and OMD. We heard how advertisers and broadcasters have both shown how good they are at collaborating, whether that was supermarkets or the TV companies themselves putting rivalries aside to do joint marketing campaigns. 

“TV’s entered a new era and I don’t think that will change” Clare Peters, deputy head of clients at Channel 4, said. “There’s an empathy that brands have no on TV that they didn’t have a year ago and it’s created an experimentation mindset.”

We also heard a lot about creativity and how the pandemic not only impacted the creation and production of TV advertising, but also how the advances in technology and rise of new video platforms is encouraging creatives to more collaborative and more experimental.

Sergio Lopez from McCann Worldgroup described how demand for content is higher now than ever before, which he said means the definition of “fast” has changed remarkably - “fast” used to mean eight weeks production and now it means more like “five days” .

For creative companies, as well as media agencies and marketers, it seems that to continue creating work at speed they are going to have to get better at working with other companies and trying different things, too. 

The metaphor of the day, meanwhile, undoubtedly went to Joseph Cox, senior media strategy manager at O2, who told us why a brand’s media strategy should be thought of as a herringbone (pictured, above). The fish’s spine is your overall brand campaign message and the ribs are the media executions, while Cox was clear that TV should continue to be a brand’s “lead” media channel that is “supported” by digital channels. 

But 2021 is a different year and will be characterised by how the industry comes out of “lockdown” and adapts to whatever post-Covid looks like for UK media. The industry faces a choice over whether to “return to normal” or continue down this path of experimentation and collaboration.

Emma Withington, head of planning at Manning Gottlieb OMD, thinks the new era will remain. She said: “The genie’s out of the bottle with this one - we know we can do it… we might go back to some habits but we’re here now and why would we go back?”

The TV Advertising Summit was hosted online by Campaign yesterday and all sessions are available to watch for another three months for delegates. For more information see