Debenhams brushes off the past, Burgess loses his Local Jewels, Loaded is spent and Foster’s will get funnier

August 23, 2010

Four thoughts on a week spent away:

1. Debenhams has irrevocably hitched itself to the voguish positioning of “natural beauty” pioneered by Unilever’s Dove – with its decision to bannish “air-brushed” fashion models. The department store has been making a number of gestures in this area recently – for example, using a size 16 and a disabled model. But this latest initiative looks definitive.

Debenham’s rallying to the cause raises some embarrassing issues for other elements of the fashion industry which, shall we say, have been less forthcoming on the permissible limits of artifice in projecting an advertising image both unrealistic and unattainable. L’Oréal, for instance, seems entirely comfortable with lightening the skin pigment of rock star Beyoncé Knowles. And let’s not forget the vexed case of Cheryl Cole’s preternaturally bouncy hair extensions, which featured in an Elvive campaign. The Advertising Standards Authority gave Cheryl a clean bill of health. But I cannot help thinking this was a wrong call, out of step with the times. What Dove and Debenhams are doing is the thin edge of a wedge fast being driven into a post-production fixated fashion industry.

2. Now Unilever’s “Local Jewels” really have lost their setting. The departure of Matt Burgess, UK managing director of Marmite, Peperami, Pot Noodle, Bovril and Slim-Fast, seemingly brings to a painful conclusion Unilever’s interesting Chrysalis project, which was formally dissolved last month. Like its architect James Hill, Burgess has moved elsewhere in the organisation. Details remain sketchy, but he would – lucky man – appear to be assuming responsibility for integrating the Radox, Brylcreem and Sanex brands offloaded by Sara Lee into Unilever’s skincare division. Not without a last hurrah, however. The crowd-sourced Peperami ad, described in greater detail by Louise Jack on Pitch, may not be to everyone’s taste. But it’s a wake-up call to agencies.

3. IPC’s willingness to dispose of Loaded, a nineties best-seller, is a reminder of how much the lad’s mag phenomenon has been butchered by the internet. According to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, Loaded lost over 26% of its circulation in the last year. That may be a disaster, but it’s by no means a unique one. FHM, now owned by Bauer Media, lost about 18%; while the weeklies Zoo (Bauer again) and Nuts (IPC again) plunged 22% and 17% respectively. From Phwoar! to Uh-ah! in less than 20 years.

4. While on matters laddish, was I alone in being underwhelmed by Adam & Eve’s first stab at refashioning the Foster’s campaign? To the untutored eye, it looked very much like a seamless continuation of the hackneyed stuff that has been pouring out of M&C Saatchi these past few years. Where was the simple Big Idea the client claimed had won A&E the account?

Now we know. Simple, but brilliant. One-off remakes of some of our best-known laddish comedies – Alan Partridge and the The Fast Show have been mentioned – using where possible the original writers, producers and stars; all inexpensively posted on the internet. And all intended to build on Foster’s title sponsorship of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and Channel 4 comedy. Let’s see how the idea catches on.


Simon Fuller revolutionises the TV pilot

December 19, 2009

I was intrigued to read (in the Financial Times) that Simon Fuller, founder of 19 Entertainment, intends to pilot his new show not on television but on the internet.

Fuller, who devised American Idol, US television’s most successful format in years, has developed a new venture called If I Can Dream. I quote: It “will follow the efforts of five young people trying to break into the entertainment industry. Their every move will be streamed online, with the audience able to interact with them via video messages and social networking sites such as Twitter and MySpace.”

Clearly this represents a step-change beyond the reality entertainment of Big Brother, with digital interactivity moving centre-stage instead of acting as a useful ancillary. But the real beauty of his digital strategy is that it will massively reduce the cost of producing a pilot on US network TV.

How so? Well, Fuller intends to use Hulu, an online video entertainment platform jointly owned by Fox, ABC and NBC, which will enable him to build a web audience, slowly but steadily, for several months before launching on TV. Hulu had about 42 million viewers in October.

Could something similar happen in the UK (home of American Idol’s prototype, Pop Idol)? After all  the tears and gnashing of teeth in the IPTV sector over the regulator’s refusal to endorse the Kangaroo project, the odds might seem low. Not so, necessarily. I read in the same edition of the FT that Project Canvas, a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Five and BT aimed at standardising online video technology, has taken on a new spurt of life. It has now added Channel 4 and TalkTalk to its ranks. That leaves only BSkyB (sister company of Fox) as a significant outsider.

There’s hope yet for a triumph of common sense.


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