Virgin and BBH walk into a row with the BBC over new David Tennant ‘Dr Who’ campaign

Virgin Media’s new TV campaign by newly-appointed agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty features the actor David Tennant, best-known for his stint as the BBC’s ever popular Dr Who. The ad features a Dr Who-style Tardis time machine (enclosing Virgin owner Richard Branson) and refers to the availability of Dr Who on Virgin’s TiVo programme store. This appears to break the BBC’s guidelines about the use of its properties.

A spokesman for BBC Worldwide, which handles BBC commercial properties, told the Mail on Sunday: “Although in this case there was an approval clause in the commercial contract regarding promotion/publicity when using our brands, logos and content, BBC Worldwide did not receive an approval request for this specific advert and it was broadcast without our consent. We are discussing the matter with Virgin Media and have asked that they suspend the advert from further broadcast.”

So Virgin and BBH had some permission it seems, but over-stepped the mark by including too much Dr Who.

This is all rather odd; you don’t need to a genius to work out that a commercial with David Tennant in it is likely to feature a pretty strong connection to Dr Who. None of Virgin Media, BBH or indeed the BBC are short of highly-paid media lawyers who know the rules about these things. Did Virgin think they could get away with it? Were they angling for the extra publicity tweaking the BBC’s tail would provoke? Was the BBC being extra dozy? And will the campaign be pulled?

As to the latter, it doesn’t look like this Virgin ad is the real deal new BBH campaign. It’s very similar to the last ads previous agency DDB London ran, featuring man on sofa with handset. So it’s probably tactical (although Tennant doesn’t come cheap) and Virgin probably won’t mind too much if it is pulled after a week or two of wrangling.

What does Virgin say? In another fine example of the skool of modern communications (rule one: if you don’t like the question answer another one of your own choosing) it says: ‘Our new campaign explores some of the benefits of Virgin Media TiVo, including the ability to search for your favourite actor and discover TV programmes, films and YouTube content available live, on demand and as catch-up TV.” On further grilling the spokesman averred that the ad had more to do with Richard Branson’s fascination for exploration and travel than Dr Who.

‘Course it does.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.