Claire Beale on Advertising

Are you switched on to the new television revolution?

Remember couch potatoes? Those lardy viewers, sprawled on the sofa, being fed a diet of television pap by dictator broadcasters night after night.

In those golden days before we had a such a huge choice of channels, we all watched what we were told to, when we were told to - playthings of the TV schedulers. And if it was pap, we watched it anyway - there was nothing else to do. Life was simple, then, and we couch potatoes were easy prey for advertisers: it's a poor commercial gun that can't hit a slumping target.

But in our new digital world, the couch potato has mutated and wrested control. As a result, 2007 will be the year when television truly emerges from the box in the corner to redefine itself as a stream of content available across a range of platforms, "on demand" whenever the fancy takes us. And for broadcasters (a term that itself is increasingly anachronistic) and advertisers, the shift means a fundamental, irreversible overhaul of the medium.

Every major broadcaster now has its broadband strategy in place and is gearing up for a full on-demand service. And viewers are already demanding. According to research last week from Tiscali, the broadband media service that has a thing or two to gain from this viewing revolution, 63 per cent of us would prefer to watch on-demand TV through our broadband connection, 42 per cent of us reckon traditional TV schedules will die out within 10 years, and almost half of us who already watch on-demand content actually watch less television as a result.

Advertisers and their agencies (at least the ones with heads out of the sand) are frantically working out the implications for a TV advertising model historically based on buying ratings (the number of people to see an ad) across a set period.

For example, what if you want to run time-sensitive ads, like the current crop for the January sales, or "in this week's issue" magazine commercials? And showing TV ads on the internet, when most computer screens aren't far off the size of a portable TV screen, is one thing, but what about if viewers are watching on, say, a mobile phone or Sony PlayStation Portable? These screens bring real formatting issues for advertising creatives. And they are issues the industry needs to be facing right now. Channel 4 is already podcasting to Sony PSPs, and TV broadcasts are in the pipeline, while the new series of Celebrity Big Brother is available to Vodafone customers through their mobiles.

Then there's the critical matter of artists' rights when ads are shown on a medium (the internet) that is not stipulated in the contract with actors and musicians involved in the ads. This matter is still not resolved. The IPA has devised a "12-month moratorium" on ad agencies having to pay a separate set of fees to record labels and actors' unions when ads run on internet or mobile TV, but ads featuring US artists still need individual rights clearance.

The good news is that broadband offers the opportunity to deliver individually-targeted ads, hitting exactly the right people with the right commercial message. But, again, great swathes of the ad industry have yet to wake up to the possibilities.

So much confusion still reins. But while the new on-demand broadband world will redefine TV advertising, the old order is not about to disappear tomorrow. How many of us will really choose to watch our favourite shows on small screens, or have computers situated in a domestic environment where we can settle down for a cosy night's viewing? Watching Coronation Street on the computer in the spare room doesn't hold much appeal.

The truth is that while broadband means on-demand, with viewers in control, most of us are still lardy couch potatoes happy to let someone else do all the hard work in delivering us our TV fare.

* THE FIRST juicy pitch of the new year is already in play. And it's a delicious one for any student of adland politics. The pitch is for Asda's £45 million creative account, currently handled by Publicis. In fact, Publicis has had the business for 17 years and the Siamese client/agency relationship had seemed one of the strongest in town, despite a track record of mediocre advertising that has bordered on the excruciating. Remember Sharon Osbourne as "everymom"?

The guardian of the Asda relationship at Publicis, in true account baron style, was Rick Bendel, a flinty chain-smoker known for his dedication to his client and his influence within the Publicis network. He was even reckoned to be a front-runner to take over from Publicis Groupe chief Maurice Levy when the day comes for succession.

Then, last autumn, Bendel quit Publicis. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family, claiming that his punishing Publicis commitments had kept him away from home too often for too long. Incidentally, Levy greeted the news of Bendel's departure with an impressively smooth management restructure that suggested Bendel was far from irreplaceable.

Anyway, Bendel had decided to turn gamekeeper and left Publicis to take on the marketing director role at Asda. It seemed a perfectly logical move: he knew the company inside out and who better to run the advertising and marketing than the man who knew all the tricks.

The move certainly put Bendel's old colleagues at Publicis London in an interesting position. Though some were far from sorry to see him go, he is now one of the agency's most important clients and as such commands much respect. And to observers, it seemed that Publicis was still sitting sweet. After all, the advertising Bendel inherited at Asda was the advertising that he had presided over at Publicis; he was hardly going to review the business - as many new marketers do.

Except that that's just what he is doing, putting the creative task up for grabs. Idle speculation that the review is in any sense a nose-thumbing at Publicis after a falling out with Levy is undermined by the presence of another Publicis Groupe agency, Fallon, on the pitch list. But even so, the power-plays involved are fascinating. Imagine being the Publicis guys pitching to their old colleague. And imagine what we'll all say if Bendel goes for a radically different approach from the one he nurtured when he was at the agency.

Whatever the outcome of the pitch, Asda desperately needs a marketing boost. The resurgence of Sainsbury's has knocked the brand, though it still retains its position at number two in the supermarket stakes, and its forgettable/embarrassing advertising is doing nothing to improve its fortunes.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'

claire.beale@haynet.com

BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW: PG TIPS

Many advertising stars are hired guns who lend their celebrity status to whatever brand is willing to pay big enough bucks. It's hard to pull off the celebrity endorsement thing with any real sincerity. Far better, if you can, to create your own celebrity brand icon: the old Milky Bar Kid, Captain Birds Eye, Howard from Halifax. And Monkey - one of the best-loved advertising celebrities of the last decade.

You'll remember Monkey from the ITV Digital ads he starred in with Johnny Vegas. In fact, the knitted marsupial outshone Vegas and outlived the brand he was advertising. After ITV Digital's scandalous demise, Monkey was "sold" to Comic Relief, which now owns the cheeky icon.

Now Monkey is being contracted to PG Tips for its new advertising campaign, replacing those other much-loved brand icons, the PG Tips chimps, and starring once again alongside his old sidekick, Vegas, reunited over a cup of PG Tips.

The ads are by Mother, the agency that created Monkey for ITV Digital and is now PG Tips' agency; the same team that did the old Digital ads is behind the new work. The scripts are beautifully written, as you'd expect of Mother, and they're full of lovely witty touches: there's one particularly delightful moment of self-awareness when Vegas looks knowingly at the camera and pulls a packet of PG purposefully into view.

As well as the TV advertising, there's a website where you can buy Monkey-branded merchandise with profits going to Comic Relief, and there will be special promotion packs of PG containing mini-monkeys.

I can't think of any other example of a brand icon being transferred from one brand to another like this. The result is the first great ad of the year.

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