Why live TV ads won’t work for every brand

As live TV ads become increasingly popular among marketers, ITN Production’s head of commercials Adam Barnett explains how brands can make the most of the format – but warns it isn’t for everyone.

Virgin Holidays

Live TV advertising seems to be an increasingly attractive medium for brands. Last week, Virgin Holidays launched its first live streamed global ad from 18 global locations (pictured) in a bid to convince more people to take long-haul holidays.

The campaign involved 90 production crew who filmed simultaneous scenes of influencers in each destination. The ad was subsequently live edited to fill a 60-second slot.

Virgin Holidays is not the only brand to have experimented with the format either. In June, Channel 4 partnered with Sony Playstation to take over the whole advertising break during its popular Gogglebox show for a live interactive Twitter-based competition.

Adam Barnett, head of commercials at ITN, produced Virgin Holiday’s live ad and he believes the format offers brands an opportunity to do something different that goes beyond the reach of live-streaming.

“Brands are trying to be a bit braver, more innovative and want to have more direct conversations with consumers. Live ads are all about instant access,” he says.

“There have been lots of questions raised about Facebook Live and how brands can use it. With live ads, [brands] are taking the same capability but putting it out on a much scale on TV.”

Embracing mistakes

Barnett says the live ad format often leads to a positive buzz on social – even when things go wrong.

“Lots of people want to find out if it’s actually live. When we aired the Virgin Holiday ad on Saturday night, we lost one of the feeds on the Pacific Coast highway. But we still put it on air because it reinforced the message that it was live,” he explains.

Even though brands like Virgin Holidays can tap into big budgets to test new ad formats, Barnett insists live ads can work for smaller brands too.

“It all depends on the size of the brand’s ambition. Live TV advertising can be done in a simple format and done to scale. There is a definite entry level of how brands can make these things work – for example by including social media feeds.”

The challenge of using any new ad format is to ensure it is more than just a gimmick. Even though Barnett acknowledges that many brands want to use the format “for a one off stunt”, he says there is an opportunity to use live ads on a long term basis.

“It all comes down to the strength of the creative idea and storytelling, as this means you can do a lot more with it. On top of that, brands will also have to think about the planning and execution to make a full impact.”

Not for everyone

However, live advertising won’t be every brand’s cup of tea. As the name suggests, shooting in real time brings up various challenges, like a potential lack of polish and lower-quality imagery.

“When you’re shooting live TV, you don’t get the opportunity to see it and do all the post work that a lot of brands usually go through. What you capture is what you get.”

Adam Barnett, head of commercials, ITN

“It depends on the type of feed you have coming through as to what the quality of the imagery would be. If it’s a satellite feed the quality should be great. If you’re relying on cell signal, it might dilute it a bit. But it is all part of its charm; [live filming] can be a bit raw and adds to that adds to the instant message you’re trying to get across.”

Brands will also have to consider whether there are any added benefits of adding live features to their campaign, as well as consider the potential risks.

“Certain [campaign elements] can be created the same day, but don’t necessarily have to be live. The extra risk you put in place to make something live makes things more complicated [for brands],” he added.

Despite these challenges, Barnett believes the medium will only improve as technology advances in time and says brands will have to become bolder if they wish to take their advertising further.

He concludes: “As brands look to become braver and more innovative, live ads are the next step forward when it comes to traditional advertising. The growth and demand in live formats we are seeing is huge.”

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