Tag Archives: Mad Men

Babes, bars & sunburnt Brits*

Have you joined a choir, applied to be a midwife or booked a flight to Benidorm recently? Or are you perhaps in a choir of midwives on a tour of the Costa Blanca? If so, you may be experiencing the benefits of watching TV. Read more on Babes, bars & sunburnt Brits*…

I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it. I’m about to use my remote control and I think I’ll like it

It’s not like me to resort to cheesey pop lyrics – though I do confess to an excess of breathless enthusiasm sometimes – but this time I want you to get excited with me about things that really matter: TV programmes.

We are no slouches at Thinkbox when it comes to championing new TV technologies; you might have already seen our new Tellyporting research into TV’s future (if not you can see the re-run on 2 Feb).  But all the iPads, and 3D screens and smartphones and companion social media sites would be dreary devices indeed without the life-force and well-spring of great TV content.

Given the near 10% decline in TV ad revenue in 2009, it’s nothing short of miraculous that viewing hasn’t suffered in 2010, with average viewing likely to tip over the 4 hour mark.

Programmes like Downton Abbey (back again this year), This Is England ’86, An Idiot Abroad, Any Human Heart, Take Me Out, One Born Every Minute, Flying Monsters, World Cup coverage, 30Rock, Corrie Live at 50, The Walking Dead, Four Weddings, Australian Masterchef, Dispatches, the Election debates, Million Pound Drop, The Book Show etc. etc., not forgetting the juggernauts of X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity, kept me and millions of others entranced.  

So, after a bumper TV revenue year in 2010, up about 14%, and with brilliant programming teams in place across tellyland, what new treasures can we all look forward to in 2011?  Further episodes of Downton Abbey aside (what will Lady Mary do about Mr Crawley?) other 2011 ITV dramas include Kidnap & Ransom (with Trevor Eve), Monroe (a medical series with James Nesbitt and Sarah Parish), Vera (Brenda Blethyn as a detective), and two forays into the supernatural – Eternal Law (about two angels on earth) and Marchlands (about a house across the decades containing the spirit of a young girl) – look very tasty.  

Highly anticipated new satirical comedy on Channel 4 starts with 10 O’Clock Live this Thursday.  Not sure how I will cope with having two unlikely heartthrobs of mine in one show: Charlie Brooker AND David Mitchell.  With this, you are spoiling us Channel 4.  And in spring, the first series of Campus finally launches, from the team who brought you the best comedy series ever made, Green Wing.

And commercial TV is also delighted to welcome brilliant on-screen talent normally associated with the BBC, from David Attenborough on Sky One to Mary Portas as a Secret Shopper on Channel 4.  The launch of Sky Atlantic on February 1st, Sky’s joint venture with HBO will also bring all those classy series within the grasp of advertisers.  If you’re not excited about being able to puts ads in Mad Men breaks, then there’s just no pleasing some people, and maybe you should think about another career.

These are just a tiny fraction of the pleasures to come.  These, plus lots of new 3D programmes and the new opportunity of product placement means your focus for 2011 should be as squarely on the TV ‘software’ as the TV hardware.

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Golden Age Syndrome

Has there really ever been a ‘Golden Age’ of advertising? Or, rather, is talking about one a kind of syndrome that strikes media types in their middle years and causes them to talk nostalgically or sentimentally about a mythical, better past – often using it as a benchmark to rubbish what is around now?

In his new autobiography, ‘The Fry Chronicles’, Stephen Fry talks about the first TV commercial he ever recorded. It was this one for Worthington in the early 1980s. When retelling the story he has what might be described as a bout of ‘Golden Age Syndrome’:

‘The golden age of British advertising was just coming to an end. The most prominent stars to have risen over the past decade had been Ridley and Tony Scott, Hugh Hudson, David Puttnam and Alan Parker, who now all devoted their time to feature films. Paul Weiland, a generation behind, had started his career as a tea boy at the production office where most of those big names had worked and was to become the leading commercials director of the eighties and nineties. Indeed he still reigns supreme.’

I’ll leave it to you to debate who reigns supreme or not as the case may be, but Fry is far from alone in thinking there is a lost golden age. Google “golden age” and “advertising” and it returns 9 million examples. The brilliant Mad Men has perpetuated the myth and may even be symptomatic of the syndrome.

My point is that I’m not convinced there has ever been a ‘golden age’ of advertising – unless we are still in it. Nothing has ended; I think it is more likely to be a question of perspective and that there is probably at least as much really good advertising around now as there was in the so-called ‘golden age’ of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Standards have not slipped; the problem is distance.

When those with longer memories peer into their minds’ rear-view mirrors, all they can see are the giant, outstanding ads on the distant horizon; the less good ones are not as memorable and so are less visible. So distance tricks them into thinking that things were generally better then.

Added to this is the fact that they can easily think of ads they might not highly rate that are on TV now or were in more recent memory – these are memorable because they are closer; in time, though, they will be forgotten. The great stuff stays in view; the less good slips from view.

There is also an argument that the creative bar has risen since the 70s and we have got used to a certain standard of creativity in our advertising. Something judged mediocre now may have wowed audiences back then. This is certainly true of TV programmes and, I would argue, advertising too.

And, if ads are so much worse now when we have so many technologies to avoid them, why are we watching more than ever (45 a day each) and going online to watch or share some again and again?

The ‘golden age’ claim belongs in the same realm as complaining that the weather used to be better, or that food doesn’t taste like it used to, or that music these days is rubbish.  Fast forward twenty years when today’s crop of fresh faced graduates will be running the industry and I predict that there will be a similar wave of nostalgia for the golden age of advertising of the noughties; when Meerkats and Nikes delighted us, when flashmobs spontaneously danced in perfect unison, and when “Always a woman to me” meant a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye.

That’s what I think; what do you think? Advertising is nothing if not subjective.

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