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Future of TV Brand Strategy Channel 4

Channel 4 is taking a ‘less is more’ approach to marketing


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

October 26, 2022 | 7 min read

Channel 4’s in-house agency 4creative has bolstered its senior ranks with hires from AMV BBDO and the BBC. Its creative director explains the new approach it is taking to marketing hit shows.

4creative recreates 90s mag Smash Hits for Derry Girls series return

4creative recreated 90s mag Smash Hits for Derry Girls’ return

While entertainment brands scramble for a place in the metaverse, 4creative wants to play in the physical world and send viewers down the “wormhole” with a new approach to marketing its flagship programs.

The BBC made headlines yesterday (November 24) for its Fortnite activation for BBC Three series Weck, while fellow broadcaster ITV made its first foray into the metaverse in 2021 by building a gaming department. 4creative, on the other hand, has been handing out physical magazines to Derry Girls fans, trapping Paralympic presenters in ice cubes and putting local Pride festivals on the map.

Executive creative director Lynsey Atkin has been leading the charge since she joined the broadcaster in 2019. She says there is something “magical” about bringing the fantasy of TV to the real world. “It’s like there has been a glitch in the Matrix, or someone slivered through the portal. There is a real joy to that.”

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Earlier this year 4creative recreated the iconic 90s teen mag Smash Hits to promote the final series of Derry Girls. Amid the metaverse-mania, “certainly, nobody was briefing us on creating a 28-page color magazine,” Atkin says. “But it became the right answer to tap back into that 90s nostalgia and start to paint the world they were in. It felt like the right creative answer.”

Atkin is taking inspiration from Channel 4 and OMD’s award-winning stunt campaign for its sci-fi series Humans. Although before her time, Atkin says Human’s marketing campaign set the “benchmark for how you take a conceptual show and bring it to life in the real world.”

More recently, to promote Channel 4 show Make Me Prime Minister, 4creative put a drug-filled vending machine in the Truman Brewery. Stocked with ketamine and weed, the vending machine answered 4creative’s challenge of making the series’ left-of-center ideas tangible to the public.

Channel 4 drugs vending machine

“Those little things where the wormhole joins the two worlds, there is something about that,” she adds. “That is what we are trying to do – paint the worlds of the show that we are in and we want people to step inside them.”

Building on the momentum of its recent activities, 4creative tapped ex-AMV BBDO execs Dan Warner and Andy Vasey, as well as two former BBC Creative staffers Stuart Gittings and Reuben Dangoor.

Atkin says the in-house agency needed multimedia expertise as the team look to deliver fewer, bigger campaigns and prioritize 360 strategies.

“The TV landscape has changed so much – you used to be able to put out a conceptual trail and a piece of out-of-home (OOH) and you knew everyone could see them, you knew you had those eyeballs,” Atkin says. But now, she explains, 4creative is “beholden to having campaigns where people may see a couple of bits [of creative] once or twice and having ideas that knit together.”

To help the team with this shift, 4creative needed more senior support. Thinking in a 360 way comes with seniority and experience, she says. “Someone who is strategic that knows how to have one big idea and extrapolate that into lots of different interesting media.”

Warner and Vasey spent the past eight years at AMV BBDO working on campaigns for Mars Petcare and Plenty kitchen towels. Gittings and Dangoor, meanwhile, helped BBC Creative execute the Winter Olympic Games campaigns along with scripted shows Dracula and This Time with Alan Partridge.

4creative needed talent that understood why something looks good and not just what creative looks good, Atkin adds.

  • Channel 4’s deputy head of digital innovation and 4Studio will be speaking at The Drum’s Media Summit on November 2 and 3. Click here to register.

Elsewhere, Atkin says joyful shows such as The Great British Bake Off often require the simplest briefs. The thinking behind its 2021 Bake Off campaign was to turn something boring and mundane into a sweet treat, resulting in a cake-wrapped car park in Glasgow.

She added that big visual poster campaigns can be particularly effective in the winter months as they can break through the gloomy weather. Aids drama It’s a Sin premiered in January 2021 as the UK entered its third lockdown. “When It’s a Sin came out, the ads showed a group of friends piling out of a black cab in Soho with big neon type on it, and it made you desperate to go out out,” Atkin says.

“To work in a place when something is a big hit, when the Paralympics happen and shows like It’s a Sin and big news, it is exciting to be around that. It’s a great thing to be a collective part of,” she concludes.

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