Expert View: Digital media - Why pay for an expensive TV ad?

The most controversial TV advert of the year so far must be Heinz's Deli Mayo ad, which received acres of press coverage after it caused more than 200 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.

The commercial showed a typical family scene, with a wife distributing packed lunches to children and husband. The creative twist was that both husband and wife were played by men, and the advert ended with the working man giving his 'wife' a kiss goodbye. It was this kiss that provoked the ire of audiences and some newspapers, despite the fact that the whole thing was light-hearted. As a result of the complaints, Heinz withdrew the advert one week into its scheduled five-week run.

What lessons can charities learn from this? Oscar Wilde famously said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about - and this advert certainly got people talking. Whatever the merits or flaws of the advert itself, there's no doubt that it has taken the Heinz brand to a wider audience than TV alone could have.

This extra publicity was generated simply by being able to shock, or stir into action, a very small audience; something the NSPCC and Shelter have also managed to do successfully in recent years, thus taking their campaigns to a wider audience.

Of course, expensive, high-quality TV adverts are something that many charities can't afford. But the Heinz case has shown that you don't need to buy TV advertising space to reach a large audience. Online, the most watched version of the advert on video-sharing website YouTube has had 250,000 views, with many other versions having been seen more than 100,000 times each. None of this online distribution cost Heinz a penny - it wasn't even responsible for it.

Charities can also use the web to distribute creative content beyond - or even instead of - the broadcast. Leonard Cheshire Disability did this successfully with its Creature Discomforts advertising campaign, which featured a series of animated characters designed by the company behind Wallace & Gromit.

By using the web rather than expensive TV slots to reach audiences, charities can spend more of their budgets - whatever size they may be - on making the best possible ads, and a lot less money on getting them to eyeballs. It's a fairly new model, but it's one that we're only going to see more of.

 - Damian Radcliffe is manager for the English regions at Ofcom

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