New-look TV // A French lesson for Extinction Rebellion
TV advertising is now wholeheartedly embracing user generated content - but is it entirely a good idea? Plus: an anti-advertising agenda that would thrill XR
As well as watching a lot of TV and ads, I’ve been thinking about how the way we watch TV has changed and whether those changes will fade or have some kind of lasting impact on future TV.
If this is a subject that gets you, tune in on Thursday to Mediatel’s Future of TV Advertising online session.
To get yourself in the mood, there’s some useful research published here into recent coronavirus-period viewing habits. Yes, the lure of nostalgia is especially powerful which, if it is sustained, will probably be a relief to ITV and Britbox.
But the change that caught my eye was the substantial increase in family or shared viewing — up 37% vs a 15% increase in viewing alone. What this suggests to me is that the desire to find things in common is very strong, and perhaps heightened at times of crisis.
It’s a reminder that what we have in common can be more powerful than the things — and we have more of them — that differentiate us, although you could be forgiven that the rise of identity politics indicates that the force has been moving the other way.
One advertising expression of commonality is mass-market broadcast-type media usage, whereas highlighting the differences between us takes the form of more targeted media or advertising strategies all the way down to the tiny niche audiences offered by social media.
Of course this debate has been running for a while, principally through the Byron Sharp prism, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the kinds of ads we see on our screens. But think of it this way: mass-market unites us, targeting divides us.
But what we’re seeing a lot of at the moment is UGC ads or, as one experienced practitioner put it to me, “social media on telly”. Newsflare, which is a platform where consumers can upload their UGC for commercial use, has historically dealt with editorial, but says its brand-related business has increased in the last five weeks by a factor of seven.
Two recent clients include Virgin Media and Oreos.
Alternatively, there’s hiring a celeb and having them do a piece to their iPhone/iPad camera, directing themselves or directed remotely, like David Walliams for BT — but why do they think this needs 3.30 minutes? — and Kevin Bacon for EE.
UGC, even celeb-generated, has lots to recommend it: cheap, fast and, apart from some influencers and Instagrammers, authentic in the sense that we can relate to the people it features by finding points of commonality rather than envy.
We know the industry is obsessed by a holy trinity — faster, cheaper, better — and you could say that UGC scores on two of those.
Does this mean then that, post-lockdown, we will be swamped by a tide of samey UGC ads? Heaven forbid, and if you want to see how bad this might be, check out ‘Microsoft Sam’, who pulled some together to make this brilliant parody.
But in fact a lot of what we’ve seen so far is perfectly ok, all things considered.
So now that advertisers have seen what the industry can do in a lockdown, knocking out stuff faster and cheaper and to a broadly acceptable level, why would they opt to go back to the old ways? In short, have agencies made a rod for their own backs?
It’s an interesting question, particularly for creative agencies whose model may turn out to be the most threatened by this crisis. Their standard answer is that they can produce ads that are better — more cut-through, more effective — and that matters more than faster and cheaper.
Which it does, but not always, and they’re going to have to work extremely hard to prove it.
And meanwhile, let’s enjoy Budweiser’s famous original ’whasssuuup’ ad from 1999, brought back with a slightly tweaked soundtrack. Despite the fact it was made before anyone even knew what UGC was, it is in many ways the ultimate UGC ad.
What XR can learn from the French
I was struck last week by a thoughtful piece from James Best, formerly of DDB (as in the BMP days) and now playing a central role in adland’s collective response to climate change.
Climate change, of course, may not be top of many people in adland’s to-do list, but if there is to be a ‘new normal’ — whatever that is — then it seems to me that the business could usefully start taking steps to mitigate adland’s contribution to climate change — the unspoken fear of many in adland being that if it doesn’t, other forces will.
An alternative, palatable to some but probably not to most people, was announced earlier this month in France. You might find it inspiring, funny or just insane.
This is from the French Citizens Climate Convention, convened by President Macron, which has come up with an anti-advertising agenda that would thrill XR.
Among its recommendations: banning OOH that might encourage people further than they need to to buy things; banning ads for products that generate excessive C02; and requiring other ads to carry a “Do you really need this? Over-consumption harms the planet” message — a bit like the tobacco and alcohol warnings — on other products.
And just for good measure, the Citizens Convention also want all out-of-town hypermarkets closed and 5G banned because it uses (or so they say) 30% more electricity.
Now you might treat this as a very French joke. But it isn’t. The Citizens Climate Convention was a sop devised by Macron to placate the gilet-jaune protestors.
A bit like an exasperated teacher who can’t deal with an unruly class and says “Tell you what, you’re in charge today”, Macron promised the Convention, not just that they would be taken seriously, but that their proposals would be implemented immediately by parliament or put to a referendum.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this pans out.
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