OFFscript but ONmessage

PETER YORK ON ADS NUMBER 256: ONDIGITAL

What is the range of "thoughtstyle" - a new American term - covered by ITV? Broadly it's Bragg to Tarrant - big thinks to big laughs. It isn't exactly a very broad continuum: Lord Bragg's TV product covers a lot of mainstream, middle-brow posh pop and Chris Tarrant isn't really as old- style or below-stairs as, say, Ted Rodgers or Little and Large. He's pretty savvy; he could easily be an adman.

Between them they might be said to represent the mainstream status quo; what you could be voting against with your feet should you want to go digital with its masses of new channels.

So who do ONdigital - the imaginatively-named digital offer that isn't Sky - use as the stars of their new commercial? Bragg and Tarrant, Tarrant and Bragg. The logic here, presumably, is to suggest more of the same because research will have told the ONs that people think more means worse; shows with production budgets of 50p for half an hour's screen time (and people really can tell now). So ONdigital is terrifically on message about "top quality television from established television makers", "people like Carlton, Granada, Sky and the BBC's Flextech". No rubbish, guv, all top brands in mint condition. Made in Britain. The other big message is that it's dead-easy, low-commitment stuff, with no dishes or cables, just a nice plug-in box.

So we get Tarrant and Bragg, Bragg and Tarrant, playing up their own screen posh and pop personalities like mad; Tarrant being eager and boosterish, Bragg being the thinking woman's Mr Angry. Perched on metal stools in a smart new "TV studio" set, they run through a routine pioneered on British television in, say, 1968 - the ad within an ad where one party acts up on screen and goes "off-script".

Mr Tarrant introduces Lord Bragg as a great genius of "exceptional eloquence" who will eulogise about ONdigital. And Melvyn responds in monosyllables - a sort of Yes/No interlude. And there's a little pay-off line involving Tarrant asking Bragg to give his new novel a "quick shufty". It's a very traditionally constructed ad targeting Worried of Woking, a kind of middle- class person who wants his digital experience class-correct and deeply reassuring. No tech, no nastiness, and no nonsense. What they ignore is the whole question of why any of these people should want any more of anything, since they don't appear ravenous for TV of any kind. If Sky has pulled in all the people who want wall-to-wall sport or movies already, can Mel and Chris really drag this lot into signing up?

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