Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

How can a turn-off like the Audi channel possibly help shift cars?
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The Independent Online

Never having understood petrol heads, I have made it to mid-life lacking many of the frames of reference for the prerequisite crisis. Torque? Don't ask me. Number of cylinders? Is more better, or fewer? I could never understand the point of a 135mph top speed if the speed limit is just 70.

DB will forever be Mr Bowie for me, but some of my best friends dream in ascending DBs: 7, 8 , 9. Famous admen were synonymous with their cars: Michael Baulk, Andrew Robertson and Rupert Howell with Ferraris, Peter Mead and later Robert Campbell with those Aston Martin DB somethings; Peter Marsh and his Rolls.

John Hegarty once pulled up alongside me in a jam on the M4 but I couldn't tell if his Audi was a Quattro. I wonder why they didn't make a Cinque? Sadly I never saw Tim Delaney in a Hyundai, nor Frank Lowe in a Vectra.

Forget the products, I don't even know the celebrities. I was recently introduced to the effervescent Vicki Butler-Henderson and didn't have a clue who she was - though I felt the force. I have never read a Jeremy Clarkson column.

But, I do know the car advertising category is by far the largest in the world - not even the COI spends more. What's more, I did sit through the entire car category long-list annually at the Cannes Advertising Festival - in the days when you could actually watch commercials in Cannes. Like everyone else, I would pray the next ad would be for Volkswagen, from no matter which country.

Currently, I am in the market for a car. It might be an Audi, too. So I was more interested in the much-trumpeted birth of the dedicated Audi Channel than I might otherwise have been - not least because I have belatedly just got Sky (thanks for your help, Dawn) and can actually watch it. A channel totally dedicated to one car brand? How fascinating (not). I really don't know what to make of it - 21 hours a day of unrelenting Audi infomercial and tenuously related sponsored events. If golf is phenomenally boring at the best of times, watching the edited highlights of a tournament just because Audi sponsors it beggars belief.

As I write there is no thrilling Audi A6 documentary on air, nor is there an A3's tour around Liverpool or the history of the Audi marque to swim in. For some totally incomprehensible reason there was an interview with toff cricket presenter Mark Nicholas, and now the Audi Stakes at glorious Goodwood.

I guess I could stay up until 1am and watch "Quattro - an Audi legend" or record it, but seriously, when am I going to watch that? There will always be Nip/Tuck re-runs or similar to watch instead.

I guess we have to accept that the Audi channel (259 on the Electronic Programme Guide since you ask) is iconoclastic in the way BMW Films.com was, but is it more so than FCUK FM radio a couple of years back? It's a tenth as much fun. Isn't it the ultimate irony that by far the most interesting programming on Audi Channel is Bartle Bogle Hegarty's "Vorsprung durch Technik" commercials.

Audi Channel had the surely unintended effect on me of making Audi less cool after years of the ads carefully constructing that image. This channel is more "Vorsprung durch Geek". I have seen the future of media - and I have zapped channels!

THE OLDER I get the less I understand. Sad enough to admit to watching mid-week Carling Cup highlights on ITV, when I swear I saw a TV ad for an MRI scanner.

Not just any MRI scanner, you understand, but a Philips Open MRI Scanner. In order that I understood just how beneficial that might be to me, there was lots of imagery along the lines of a goldfish being released into a stream (to almost certain death if you think about it) and a little girl emerging alone from a crowded lift (where were her parents?). I think I grasped how much more free I would feel in an open rather than a closed MRI scanner. So the ad worked, then?

But in direct inverse correlation to my understanding of the product benefits is my lack of understanding of the media placement; or even the reason for the commercial's existence. Either MRI Scanners have come down in price like ghetto blasters and microwaves, or isn't the average MRI scanner out of the average ITV viewer's price range? And I mean even the South Bank Show type viewer, let alone the Carling Cup highlights saddo?

Are we to draw a correlation between the target viewer and the need for the product? Surely this is not just a case of a bit of makeweight TV airtime buying from Carat (so unlike them!) to make up for really wanting to be in - erm, what ITV show would they actually want to be in? Is it a subtle joke? Do I need my head examined for watching mid-week Carling Cup highlights? But, do you know what? It worked.

OK, I haven't actually bought an MRI scanner - this being one of the few things I have yet to see on the shelves at Tesco, and still costing a million quid or similar. But it worked in that way agencies say their ads worked when they enter NMA Effectiveness Awards papers: it drove me to the Philips Medical website (not that they gave me the address themselves) to try to get a price list. No luck either on the Kelkoo or Shopzilla websites despite their "compare Philips prices" pledge. There wasn't even an MRI scanner on Ebay. I still don't really know how much they cost.

Call me an advertising victim, but if I were ever to get rid of the ping pong table in the cellar and buy an MRI scanner, Philips would be my brand of choice. And with its ability to break through the clutter with just one spot I would even go so far as to recommend Philips' ad agency, DDB, to Heineken.

TO BE FAIR to myself, I only saw the Philips MRI scanner ad once, however I have seen the mysterious "multiple Elvis" ads scores of times in virtually every newspaper I open. It's also on a poster site at the bottom of my street. I stood there like an idiot this week trying to work out what it meant. At least I could see it was for AOL because it said so on the poster, and I am sure that there is somehow an intended link between the featured imagery and broadband. But why more of the same thing? Why would I want 20 Elvises? Feeling intimidated by this problem, I have asked around - even the odd ad guru, but a) no-one knows what I mean when I say "the AOL ad"; b) everyone knows it as "the Elvis ad"; and c) nobody I ask has a clue either.

HATFIELD'S BEST IN SHOW: CRAVENDALE'S VENGEFUL COWS

OK, I know most of you ad types reading this will not have seen this daytime TV ad, but you try making a milk-derivative product sexy. This ad manages to make wide-eyed red cows appear menacing, as they seek to get their Cravendale Hint Of Milk product back off the mother who bought it. This spot stands out because of a memorable performance from the increasingly anxious little boy in the back of the car, and the tension-building soundtrack. It's a nice job all round from DDB - and if you don't believe it's worth Best in Show this week, try sitting through the rest of the category. I hate the brand name though!

stefanohat1@aol.com if you know the cost of an Open MRI Scanner

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