Whatever happened to the likely ads?

No 133: ITV
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The Independent Culture
Why are Jack and Vera Duckworth from "Coranora" talking animatedly about the interplay of forces in Kandinsky's work? Why are Gladiators' Wolf and Hunter swinging their rubbery bulk from the light fittings of a suburban house in a race to access the latest middlebrow TV drama? It's because ITV is running scared.

It is no coincidence that ITV is advertising its virtues to advertisers just when the latest figures show a triumphant BBC1 reaching equal ratings among viewers nationally and beating Carlton in the vital London market for the last 19 weeks. At the same time Channel Four is taking a chunk of the advertising revenue directed at younger, more upscale viewers. And cable and satellite in turn now command slightly more viewers than C4. It's hell out there in the TV-advertising sales war, and ITV, formerly used to operating in a seller's market, is having to fight back.

So these ads are designed to demonstrate the breadth, originality and classiness of ITV; the notion that discriminating folk can get whatever they want from it and that, even in an age of zapping and grazing, ITV remains "the nation's favourite button".

They do this by showing us the stars of the high-rating, low-brow ITV programmes inflamed with enthusiasm for the more middle-class parts of the channel's output. The running joke is that they're arguing - Jack and Vera, Wolf and Hunter - over control of the button because they don't at first realise that all this bounty is available on ITV.

It's strong, memorable stuff. Jack and Vera - "You're a fool for these Russian Constructivists, Jack Duckworth" - are funny Northern camp in a Victoria Wood/Boddington's way, while Wolf and Hunter take direction well enough. Ironically, it will be popular advertising with viewers generally. But they aren't the real target market; it'll take more than a bit of advertising to impress the hard-headed boys and girls in the media departments of the big advertising agencies.