Claire Beale on Advertising

Shock! Horror! How did an advert sneak its way into the BBC?
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The Independent Online

Fans of electro-poppy-mash music might have heard a new track by Shocka (featuring Honeyshot) recently. Not on the venerable Radio 1, though. It's been banned.

Ah, now don't go assuming there are some salacious lyrics worth checking out. What's got the gentlemen at the Beeb fingering their collars is a little less thrilling. Hair gel. Not Something-about-Mary hair gel, just the real deal.

Shocka's song is an ad in disguise. It's an ad for Shockwaves, made by the equally venerable Procter & Gamble - the world's biggest advertiser, so it knows a thing or two about the marketing game.

Shocka/Shockwaves ... see what they've done there. Not so subtle. And if that one passed you by, the title of the track might give you a clue: "Style, Attract, Play". Damn silly name for a song, not quite such a silly tag for a hair-styling product that sells itself on making you more attractive to the opposite sex. Any randy 16-year-old with fly-away fringe would get it.

The bosses at Radio 1 didn't. Hoodwinked, they thought it was good enough to make it on to the playlist. It was only when a pop website blew the whistle and pointed out that the whole thing was a marketing exercise to sell gel to hair-distressed youngsters that things got sticky. An embarrassed we-don't-do-ads BBC immediately cried foul and dumped the track.

But Shocka is simply the latest example of one of the hottest marketing trends: branded content, and a nicely sophisticated example of the genre. Simply put, advertisers create and control content that they then glue their brands to. Sounds clinical and cynical - and it is. But it's also playing a bigger and bigger role in our media experience as advertisers chase audiences that are deserting the traditional advertising vehicles.

The logic goes something like this: if the punters aren't seeing ads as often as they used to, why not get closer to the editorial content? And if you're going to get closer to the content, well why not go the whole hog and actually create the content, so that it perfectly suits your brand's style and your consumer's tastes: entertainment in return for brand awareness?

The Shocka idea comes from an offshoot of Saatchi & Saatchi called GUM. They created a pop group. (It happens, even without advertising as an excuse.) They called their band Honeyshot - three gorgeous divas - and touted them round to advertisers as a cleverly covert way to market brands to elusive young consumers.

Young people, you see, don't watch a lot of TV; they don't read a lot of newspapers. They're what's known in the ad business as "bloody hard to reach, mate". But they listen to music. They iPod. Music is a lifestyle core, an emotional connector and that's a powerful place for a brand to wriggle into. So Shockwaves put their money on the table; Honeyshot became Shocka (featuring Honeyshot) and the "Style, Attract, Play" track was written. Pretty smart, really, and better than plenty of stuff churned out in the name of artistic integrity.

So where did it all go wrong? Well, the publicly funded BBC really had no choice but to ban the record once it discovered its provenance. But you can taste the hypocrisy. Everything you hear on Radio 1 is an ad, an ad for a song that you can buy. And the singles are ads for the albums. Music marketers fight hard to get on the playlist; they know it's the route to the top of the sales chart. Go figure. Even Radio 1 is obsessed about how many records it helps to sell: it broadcasts a whole three-hour programme about the sales charts every Sunday night.

And it can't have escaped anyone's notice that music and ads have become extremely lucrative partners over the past few years: the soundtracks on TV ads sell records, which get played on Radio 1, which reminds you of the ad, which helps sell the jeans/the beer/the mobile phone. Is Radio 1 going to stop playing any record that's featured in an ad campaign because it's subliminally pushing a commercial message? What GUM and P&G have done with Shocka is simply the natural extension of the branded content concept as brands slug it out for a share of our attention.

Whatever the BBC apparatchiks think, branded content is here to stay. Expect to see more like this. And just like ads themselves, if it's good we'll get engaged; if it's bad, we'll ignore it.

EVERYONE IN adland is obsessed with the shortage of talent. Young people: they come in; they get trained beautifully; they do well for a couple of years, then they bugger off travelling or to do some voluntary work or have some other life-enhancing experience. Sod advertising and that whole career-for-life stuff that defined their parents' generation; today's graduates would much rather invest in themselves than in the corporate p&l.

So perhaps it's not surprising that someone with 30 years' experience and a reputation as one of the industry's best strategic thinkers should be rather an attractive proposition to an advertising agency. Even if those 30 years were spent in media. Jonathan Durden has just quit PHD, the agency he co-founded 17 years ago, to become a partner at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy.

Durden is a character. You'd pay to see him speak (if you could be sure he'd gone to bed at a sensible time the night before), and how many of the new media managers could you say that about? You'd certainly pay to have him spend some time thinking about your marketing problems if you were a shrewd client. He's a coup for MCBD, if he makes the sort of commitment he's said he will: focusing on new business and business development.

But perhaps the more interesting side to the story is why the media business is failing to hold on to its senior talent. There aren't many left from Durden's generation still working at the media coalface, even from the management floor.

There are a few reasons why so many of the people that made the media industry what it is today have bailed out recently. For a start, quite a few of them have made a million or two and can afford to try a new challenge. But I suspect one of the main reasons is that the business simply isn't as satisfying or fun as it used to be. When it was adland's wild west there was plenty of room for maverick prospectors who seized the opportunity to chase their own gold.

MCBD doesn't strike me as the sort of agency to offer Durden a return to such highs, but it's full of decent people doing some nice work. More than that, it's different. And after 30 years spent sweating media it's not hard to see why the man might fancy a change. Media's loss is advertising's gain.


Maybe it's not important why this new blockbuster for Motorola features horses. It's a very fine ad of epic proportions and an enjoyable way to spend 30 seconds.

But in case you're wondering: the ad is for Motorola's Z8 phone, which has high-definition video capability. OK, I don't know why anyone would want that either, but bear with me. If you look back at the history of film-making, right from the first zoetrope, horses figure large. Since the Z8 is all about the latest film technology, why not use it to track the horse-as-movie-star through the decades?

The result is a lush commercial from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, shot by hot director Nicolai Fuglsig, who did the award-winning "Balls" for Sony Bravia, and bought by Motorola's departing marketing chief, Simon Thompson. He himself has a stirling track record for great advertising: he did "cog" when he was marketing chief at Honda.

Unfortunately, it does end with the toe-curling "hello Moto" line which someone somewhere clearly thinks is distinctively clever. But if you can ignore that, and the fact that all this effort is simply for a mobile phone only the geekiest of more-money-than-sense geeks might want, this is one ad worth watching many times over.