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Trevor Beattie On Advertising

Are we not men? No, we are TiVo

A recent report in an uncomfortably sized national newspaper suggested that the average human is exposed to 3,500 advertising "messages" a day. Worse still, that 99 per cent of said jolly jingles have no impact whatsoever. How did they prove this? Yes, you guessed it. With a brand new gadget. And how do we know that the gadget worked? Because the 800-word article was nothing short of an advertorial for the device itself, neatly disguised as a piece of investigative journalism. Smart, eh?

The article was illustrated with a colour 8x6 photograph of the gadget in action, and a caption reminding us of its name and manufacturer, which I have no intention of revealing here. Suffice it to say, I'm sure the company in question was chuffed to brass buttons that, while their message was probably the 2,387th to be stuck in people's faces that day, it probably stood a better chance of getting noticed than most of the others.

Meanwhile, and 5,000 miles due west of Farringdon Road, a small town in Texas has offered to change its name to "Dish" in exchange for free satellite-TV subscriptions for its entire population for the next 10 years. (Interestingly, the town's original name was Clark. Can't help thinking that they missed a marketing trick there...)

What's going on here? Deceit? Trickery? Mass prostitution? Or the very future of advertising as we know it? Well. Yes. Yes. Yes. And probably, but what the hell do I know, I only work here.

Advertising seems to be here, there and everywhere, and yet, we're told, going nowhere fast. And this is never more true than on television. For the millionth time, the imminent demise of "conventional" advertising seems to be, well, imminent.

Latest suspect in a long line of would-be assassins is TiVo technology. SkyPlus, to you and me. A handset, if we listen to the merchants of doom, carved from purest kryptonite itself.

Luckily for our industry, I believe the kryptonite in question to be the less-than-fatal blue variety. And here's why. Contrary to what you may have read in Marvel, SkyPlus does not "zap" TV ads. It merely enables the viewer to fast-forward them on replay, in a choice of three speeds: pacy, racy and "Put yer foot down, it's Cillit Bang!".

At no point does the viewer take their eyes off the screen (and therefore the ads) for fear of over-shooting the break and crashing headfirst into part two of the You Are What You Eat Christmas special. The ads don't disappear, they hurry silently by. And there's the rub. Even at speed, the more visually arresting the ad, the greater your chance of attracting an inquisitive viewer. I defy anyone not to have paused and replayed television commercials as striking as the Sony "Balls" or Guinness "Evolution".

'Twas ever thus. Advertising has always had to sing for its supper. SkyPlus and its ilk are merely a technological replica of something that the human brain has possessed for aeons. If we're not moved by something, we ignore it. Think of the face you're pulling as you read the following words: "There now follows a party political broadcast on behalf of..." See? That's the human TiVo in action, right there.

We shouldn't fear technology, but we must be aware of the consequences of not putting creativity at the heart of what we do. If that means that, in future, TV advertising favours the visually arresting over the big audio dynamite, then so be it. We're all consumers now. If you bore us, we zone out. If you fail to grab us, we slip out for a wee. If you pop up ugly, unannounced and in our face, we click your ass.

This is not new. We are programmed this way. Are we not men? We are not men. We are TiVo. Always have been.