The good, the bad and the irredeemably crass

What gives TV advertising a bad name? Can the medium keep the public’s faith?

Years of moaning about the lack of any sessions at the Guardian Edinburgh TV Festival on advertising – the stuff that pays for most commercial TV – finally paid off this year. I was invited to sit on the advisory committee and to produce two advertiser-orientated sessions.

In “Advertisers’ Heaven and Hell”, we invited the Top 20 media agencies to name those TV programmes they love and shame those they hate – purely professionally you understand. In fact, it was a deadly serious attempt to articulate the concerns of the advertising industry and demonstrate that we are every bit as passionate about quality TV as broadcasters.

The other session, “Dirty Money?”, examined the growing tendency for advertisers to invest directly in TV production, either in conventional TV or online, or in brand association through sponsorship, global barter or e-commerce. We examined the future economic model for a TV landscape where spot advertising is being forced out, especially among the lightest, time-poor, cash-rich viewers. Chaired by Richard Eyre and with an all-star cast, this session explored the love-hate triangle of advertiser, producer, broadcaster – or, more crudely, the money, the talent and the distribution.

Unilever’s Alan Rutherford was the epitome of reasonableness, assuring everyone that advertisers respect viewers too much to try to get away with subliminal advertising. Their investment would maintain the quality of advertising-supported TV, he insisted, and they could help producers distribute programmes in new markets.

The message from Mark Rowland, from the highly respected independent production company Mentorn Barraclough Carey, was that advertisers should seek a relationship with the producer, not with the broadcaster, because only the producer can deliver the creative product plus the rights that advertisers need. He also hoped the ITC would relax a few rules relating to advertiser-funded and masthead programming, to allow the UK production base to benefit.

Dianne Nelmes from ITV explained her lack of enthusiasm. ITV doesn’t need the money, and she will only commission something she considers absolutely right that she can control. Advertisers generally come with poor ideas that attempt to directly promote their products or market too transparently.

Of course, they are all right. I don’t want to see British TV degenerate into commercial cacophony -Âlike Brazilian TV, for example – and I hope you don’t want that either.

On the other hand, I know there are clients of mine which only want to invest in programming to make TV better.

So I have two pleas: any rogue out there thinking of taking a craven or crap idea to a broadcaster, please stop messing up the game. And dear GEITF, thanks for letting us in, but how about giving us a decent slot next year?

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