When it comes to TV promos,  it’s now less about the size of the budget and more about the width of the social media response, says Bruce Dunlop

Last Friday night 40 promos won Gold Awards at Promax 2013, the promo and design industry’s showcase at London’s Hilton Hotel. The standard was extremely high. Channel 4 are up there when it comes to spending high-end advertising size budgets on their spots, so I was overjoyed to see them lose out on the Best Originated Sports Promotion award, which went instead to BT sports for its Michael Owen promo.

Featuring the player excitedly commentating on his own moments of success, the promo cost practically nothing. It rightly beat Channel 4’s very big budget spot for the Grand National, featuring horses recreating the event in suburbia.

That spot did win a Gold for Best Directing that was well deserved. But I believe that the production team missed a trick by not tapping into the real drama of that particular race. Which was that for the first time, a female jockey called Katie Walsh was riding the favourite.

I guess that the promo was in production before that news was widely known, but they missed the opportunity to piggyback a headline and attention-grabbing moment, that would have doubtless increased viewing figures. The end result was less than original. In sport promotion you don’t have to make show-reel pieces, recreating drama, because they are never as real as the actual drama of any sporting event. All you have to do is understand the sport you are promoting, and get off your arse to find the story behind it. Big budget promos are more often than not promoting the broadcaster’s brand rather than the programme – “Look at us, we’ve pinched the Grand National off the BBC, and now you’re going to see how the race should be covered, and we’ll blow a lot of money telling you about it, because we’re Channel 4.” Actually the BBC’s recent coverage of the event had been excellent.

Another interesting spot from Channel 4 won four awards including the “people’s choice” featuring a Galapagos tortoise called Arthur, on the lookout for love following the death of his tortoise wife.

The spot was poignant, excellently produced and very expensive, but was it a good promo?  I don’t think so.  The clanger was the reveal, which came after a great and lengthy set up that could have worked brilliantly for any number of products… But hang on, after 90 seconds of failed tortoise love, this promo was for what…? "Mating Season!" There may have been a number of reasons that Channel 4 didn’t want to show cuts from the shows featured in that season of programming, but if I was even a half intelligent viewer I would think that "Mating Season" didn’t have much to offer, and probably look for a David Attenborough doco on the more interesting Galapagos tortoise.

Controversially for someone who has made an entire career out of creating promotional films, I am increasingly weary of most of the bigger budget campaigns. Take a recent Homeland trail for example (and I promise I have nothing against Channel 4, I am just a massive Homeland fan!) – there is no point telling me that the star of the show will actually appear in this week’s episode, because you are preaching to the converted. Unless I get bowled down by a herd of stampeding love-lost tortoises, I will be watching, as will my family, friends and colleagues. But all of those people are increasingly finding it, making decisions about whether to watch it, and then hyping it up themselves through social media.

The recent finale of Breaking Bad on NetFlix was basically unpromotable, because those who hadn’t caught up were desperately trying to avoid spoilers, while the millions of hooked fans were already hyper-aware of every hour remaining until they could download it. Instead the internet exploded with wonderfully subtle fan-made memes celebrating the infamous Walter White and his put-upon partner Jesse Pinkman – Netflix and AMC just had to ride the wave of fandom.

This is the biggest change (and challenge) to TV promos. The future of on-air promotions will be increasingly to do with reverse engineering social media into the fabric of effective promotions. Real fans often have a much more interesting perspective of their programme or their sport than those responsible for advertising it. There are more of them, they are more passionate, often better informed, and extremely vocal about every aspect of ‘their’ programming. So Grand National fans were more than aware that for the first time ever, a woman had a real chance to win an event that had been dominated by men for it’s entire history.  

This year none of the Promax Gold awards went to a company making a real and compelling use of social media to create a new perspective for their main message promo. Next year I guarantee that this style of promos will be on the winner’s list, and will continue to be so. The future of promotion is in the hands of the people that love the programming we make, we just have to keep up with them.

Bruce Dunlop won his first US Gold Promax award in 1979 for Best Sports Promo, for a spot advertising the 50th running of the Melbourne Cup, which was shot from the perspective of a young jockey. Since then he’s won a shelf-full more, and has over 40 years experience creating TV promotions.
In March he launched a new agency, Dunlop Goodrich, after leaving his old agency BDA in 2012. He spent this summer on the steering committee for BT Sports, designing the look and feel of the BT Sports studio. Here he shares his thoughts on last Friday’s big winners at the 2013 Promax Awards.

Bruce Dunlop

Share this story

Share Televisual stories within your social media posts.
Be inclusive: Televisual.com is open access without the need to register.
Anyone and everyone can access this post with minimum fuss.