So can Brand Goody (aka Brand Baddy) do a Kate Moss? Come back from the thick of sensational controversy and make a mint out of it? As adland ponders the fallout, no doubt Brand Goody and the Celebrity Big Brother race row will keep students of marketing in theses for quite some time to come.
Yes, yes, you're probably awfully bored with it all by now, even though you will of course be quick to say that it was shameful television and a sad reflection on modern Britain. But as a case study in the power of telly and the risky business of pitching your brand into the reality TV fray, it's got more meat than Ms Goody's lipo'd thighs.
For the record, I reckon Brand Goody will survive if she is all sorry, lesson learnt. But for advertisers, the show's provided a fascinating commercial conundrum. It's been distasteful, it's been controversial, but there's no getting away from the fact that it's been enormously successful. The farrago increased viewing of the show (good news for advertisers) and sold plenty of newspapers (good news for advertisers again).
But when Charles Dunstone, the Carphone Warehouse boss, sat down with his apparatchiks last Thursday to review their sponsorship of the programme they had to weigh potential commercial damage from the association against the boost in exposure (which in any other circumstance would be a marketing director's wet dream).
It's always a tough call when sensitive editorial proves sensational: should advertisers pull out in protest? Or sit tight and enjoy the spotlight? Does a brand become tainted by proximity to controversy? Or do viewers make a wide distinction between the editorial and the advertising?
Many advertisers, particularly the Central Office of Information, which co-ordinates govern-mental ad campaigns, will have also asked themselves these questions as they saw their ads played out in commercial breaks between rows over Oxo cubes or undercooked chicken. But heck, we're all media-literate enough to understand the different dynamics at play between the programmes and the ad break and any commercial hand-wringing is frankly OTT.
But the line is blurred when it comes to sponsorship. Which is exactly why sponsorship is such a powerful marketing tool. It takes a brand out of the commercial dynamic and into the programming environment, "in association with", "brought to you by", "supported by": brand and show are partners.
The very rationale for sponsorship is a brand's endorsement of a programme (and, by valuable implication, vice-versa). So Carphone Warehouse pulled its sponsorship of Celebrity Big Brother.
But, but. You've got to say it has all worked out quite nicely for Carphone Warehouse. More people than might otherwise have now seen its sponsorship credits (and pretty good they are too: by Clemmow Hornby Inge). And Carphone has reaped the positive PR from the moral stance it finally made by pulling out last Thursday. No surprises then that by last Friday Channel 4 had some serious offers from other brands keen to take up where Carphone Warehouse had slunk off.
In an ideal commercial world, Carphone would have shown more spunk and, overnight, come up with new sponsorship credits that played out a positive racial message. But marketers rarely have the balls to move that fast or take that sort of gamble. And most ad agencies would die at the thought of such a time frame. As it was, Carphone Warehouse probably extracted the full value of its £3m sponsorship over the course of just a few days of bickering in the Big Brother house. Not a bad week's work, really.
* All is not well at London's second largest ad agency JWT, one of the world's largest and oldest ad networks. Its client list is a roll-call of household names: Nestlé, HSBC, Kraft and as ad agencies go, this is about as premier league as it gets. Except that JWT doesn't feel premier league and hasn't for some time. It's felt lethargic and dull and it's lost clients such as Vodafone and Reckitt Benckiser as a result.
When the agency booted out its creative director, Nick Bell, last week, it was clearly time for a drastic overhaul. Bell, a creative director who gets a mixed press but certainly commands a fierce loyalty from many of his creative colleagues and peers, is a fairly traditional creative at a time when fairly traditional creatives are fast becoming yesterday's thing. Every agency is desperately fighting for digital credentials and those credentials need to be embedded in the DNA of the creative department. Now maybe Nick Bell is a digital advocate, just a quiet one. Maybe he would know his avatar from his elbow. Maybe those stories about him not knowing how to use e-mail are, simply, stories. Bell's certainly a strong creative. But what he hasn't done over the last few years is position JWT's creative product at the forefront of the new communications world order.
The trouble is that with an agency as big, as networked and as lacking in any entrepreneurial spirit as JWT, that's one heck of a challenge for any creative director. Ultimately, the decision by JWT'sexecutive chairman, Toby Hoare, and it's global creative chief, Craig Davis, to get rid of Nick Bell was probably the right one. A desperate but imperative signal of new intent. But the bar has now been set incredibly high for Bell's successor. All eyes will now be on JWT's management to come up with a pretty stunning replacement.
* And finally, thank you to the IPA 's out-going president, David Pattison, for name-checking this column in his speech to adland's great and good at last week's President's Reception.
Pattison recalled my predictions here a few weeks ago that the event would be populated by balding pates and comfy paunches. Which it was, of course. Still, despite falling into this category himself, the thoroughly decent and quietly smart Pattison leaves the presidency in fine shape: the IPA is really starting to step up to the plate on the big industry issues (remuneration, training, future-proofing the business).
But the IPA needs to put more energy into anticipating and fighting the growing threats to advertising freedoms. As Pattison was making his farewell speech, 80 MPs were adding their voices to calls to curb all advertising to children. The MPs have signed a Commons motion that blames advertising and marketing for contributing to mental, physical and behavioural problems in children.
If IPA is to really future-proof the advertising industry, it needs to come out ready to fight to the death against all opponents of commercial communications. Now. The real worry is that it might already be too late.
Claire Beale is editor of Campaign, firstname.lastname@example.org
BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW: 4oD
It's a fair bet that more than a few advertising creatives dream of making movies. Or, second best, telly. But more than a few people who work in TV are now making ads.
Most of the major broadcasters have set up their own in-house creative department, making idents, trailers, house ads. Quite possibly the best of these is 4Creative, the team behind the award-winning ads for Channel 4.
Their latest is a clever ad for the launch of 4oD, the broadcaster's new television-on-demand service. Adland is buzzing about on-demand services, so it's easy to forget that your average TV viewer is probably still wondering quite what all this new fangled broadbandy, on-demandy stuff actually is. This ad makes it all really simple. It takes some of C4's iconic stars (Noel Edmonds, Dom Joly), shrinks them and puts them in a vending machine. Viewers can go and grab one of them whenever they fancy. It's done with style and wit, like all C4 ads. But one of the real joys is the way the stars of Channel 4's shows throw themselves into the commercials. It's absolute testament to the respect the channel has amongst its on-air talent that they're happy to get stuck in.
And if I was a marketer, I reckon I might like to see what advertising the C4 guys could come up with for my brand.