Matt Williams: why are so many TV show brand idents wasted opportunities?

If this were any other marketing website, I’d have probably used this space to write a piece with a headline like “28 Things We Learned from #TheDress.” Or “The Brand Winners and Losers from Dressgate.”

But this isn’t Buzzfeed, you’re already bored of dress talk, and we all know it was Gold and White anyway.

So let’s get off Twitter for a minute (I know it’s hard for a lot of us) and on to television. Today I want to talk about idents. Not the most pivotal topic in the industry I know, and you may only know them as “the briefs you shove to the junior creative teams,” but whilst idents aren’t the most obvious thing to create award-winning work for, they’re very easy to muck up. Badly.

It’s a shame. Brands can spend a lot of money on sponsoring TV programmes, and you can see why. Associating yourself with a popular show can be hugely beneficial and can often guarantee you the eyeballs that might glaze over when the ad break kicks into full swing.

But just like a brand that sponsors a sporting event and doesn’t do anything with it, a brand that shells out to sponsor a TV programme yet provides second-rate creative is not only wasting money, but can actually be shooting itself in the foot with consumers.

Let’s look at The Big Bang Theory on E4 (I know, I work in an agency so should be watching gritty documentaries and baffling Scandinavian thrillers rather than inane American teen comedies, but that’s a conversation for another day). This show is sponsored by sweet brand Maoam. It’s not the most obvious partnership, but by no means a terrible deal. And the premise of the creative – showing scientific experiments using the sweets – is sound. But in tone and casting, they’ve gone down the cheesy-bordering-on-annoying route, which might work once, but on repeat viewing goes from raising a wry smile to wanting to physically hurt both cast members.

Because that’s what you get with idents – repeat viewing. Done well, that’s a very exciting proposition. Done badly, it just reminds the viewer how annoyed they are by the brand. And when those idents sponsor a show that’s on E4 around 278 times per day, that really can be detrimental.

Let’s consider another show – Broadchurch. Popular, mainstream, and a chance to target a big and lucrative audience. Skoda has taken this sponsorship on, which should be a real treat. Some of the best advertising campaigns in recent years have come from them.

The creatives even had a nice line to play with: “A Break From The Drama.” Yet instead of seizing this opportunity, they churned out a couple of quick spots…and left it at that.

Again, the resulting idents themselves aren’t half bad. But they get mildly frustrating when eight ident spots in one hour are taken up by just two films. The constant repetition can become very boring.

Think of the brand opportunities that – perhaps with a bit more budget, a bit more bravery, or a bit more creativity – could have been available. Here was a chance for Skoda to develop a mystery drama of its own, running parallel with the series. Maybe they could have made more of an association with Broadchurch itself (it was only one of the biggest TV shows of last year, after all). Even just keeping the ident series a bit fresher would have helped.

Instead the creative lost its effectiveness rather quickly, and therefore, despite being bombarded with the message hundreds of times over the Broadchurch season, I still had to Google which car brand was actually doing the sponsoring.

I know there are rules and regulations to negotiate. And I know it’s not as simple as clicking your fingers and blowing a client’s budget on an epic film series just to fill 15 seconds around The Alan Titchmarsh Show. But it can be done.

Look at how Cadbury, Comparethemarket.com and others have used their association with Coronation Street to extend their brand campaigns. Look at how TalkTalk used its X-Factor sponsorship to create an innovative digital campaign that got its customers even more involved (below). Look at how Fosters and Domino’s Pizza have integrated their campaigns with the TV shows they are sponsoring – Channel 4 Comedy and The Simpsons respectively.

As advertising evolves and more branded content, advertiser-funded programming and sponsorship opportunities become available, it’s worth remembering that used creatively, idents can actually provide a very exciting opportunity to use a brand’s marketing spend effectively. Used poorly, clients may not only be throwing their money down the drain but punching their customers in the face as they do so.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams
Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.