It's good to ... shut up!

BT seems undaunted by signs that we are getting fed up with its deluge of TV advertising. Meg Carter tries to find out why there's more on the way

Why is BT doing so much advertising nowadays? Why, when you switch on your TV, is there a different BT ad in almost every break? Why is it so irritating? The little girl in the latest BT commercial might want to consider an average night on TV. There are BT ads telling us "It's good to talk", ads encouraging us to call abroad, ads to woo small businesses, ads urging us to get wired. There has been Maureen Lipman and her "ologies", Bob Hoskins and his cod psychoanalysis of how we don't communicate, Rory McGrath, Hugh Laurie, Ballykissangel star Dervla Kirwan, and even Brian Walden. And for what? To boost our bills.

With yet another campaign due to break later this week, BT, one of adland's biggest spenders, seems to be marketing consumers into submission. Or is it about to discover that for most of us, less is more? Research conducted for the company last year highlighted a potentially worrying trend. A source close to the campaign admits: "It signalled the beginnings of public disinterest, realising long-held fears that consumers might get fed up with 'all those BT ads'."

BT's response? Yet another TV campaign, this time a generic feelgood mix of images including pregnant mums and chirpy kids set to Elvis Presley's "You Were Always on My Mind". The idea was to position BT as a "good citizen". Heart-warming stuff, but what of the backlash?

Dominic Owens, BT's head of business advertising, insists: "We haven't yet found the volume of our advertising has affected likeability, but it is something we are extremely cautious about." Sholto Douglas-Home, BT's consumer advertising head, adds: "People think we spend a lot of money on advertising, but compare the advertising-to-sales ratio of any large company and I think you'll find it is no greater than many."

He may be right, but one thing's for sure - the amount of BT advertising force-fed to consumers has dramatically increased. At the start of BT's "Good to talk" strand in 1994, it made 15 to 20 TV ads a year. In 1996, extra investment was put into the strand, and new "Good to talk" ads are being made at the rate of 75 a year.

"We had a huge amount of new news to tell people," Douglas-Home explains. "There was news about new products and services, discounts and promotional schemes," he says. Oh yes, and advice on how we can all communicate better. This has become BT's unifying theme. The company has even produced a helpful guide for the inarticulate called "Talkworks". Then there is its TV programme, Now We're Talking, a guide to better communication hosted by Philip Schofield, broadcast on ITV and paid for by BT. High-handed, undoubtedly - and smug, too.

Life has changed considerably since BT could afford to rely only on Buzby, the tubby yellow bird who was the company's brand spokesman in the Seventies. New competition and technology have led to new products and services. Today, while the core aim remains the same - to persuade us to phone home (and anywhere else) and not defect to the competition, numerous new messages have cluttered the airwaves.

BT's advertising is now worth an estimated pounds 150m a year, but the company refuses to confirm the figure. BT still enjoys a virtual monopoly among a significant proportion of its private customers. With its habit of posting ever-increasing profits (not to mention its recent salvo against plans for a windfall tax) all this advertising is showy, to say the least. At worst, it is positively brazen.

On the consumer side, Hugh Laurie continues to lead the assault, supported by Friends & Family's staggering 40-plus commercials which will continue throughout the summer. Meanwhile, a third consumer strand, "The cost of calling keeps falling", enters a new phase this week when an animated campaign replaces the ads featuring a choir. The animated theme - details are still under wraps - will be shared by the business campaign in yet more ads.

BT recognises the risks. "While Bob Hoskins did an outstanding job at launch, he was over-exposed. People got bored," Miles says. So there is such a thing as too much advertising, then? Absolutely not, he retorts. "We won a gold at last year's advertising effectiveness awards, based on the incremental revenue the campaign brought to BT." This will no doubt prove reassuring for those receiving their quarterly phone bills this weekn

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Life and Style
Men with beards rejoice: Your beard probably doesn't harbour faeces-like bacteria
health
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before