The Times finds the perfect Homeland

Whenever I hear someone say ‘content is king’ I shudder. It’s like nails down a blackboard or polystyrene being rubbed or Joe Pasquale’s pillow talk. I shudder not because of the gendered nature of the phrase, but because it is so over-used and because the word ‘content’ has become so meaningless and debased.

Everyone is a ‘content creator’ now and everything is ‘content’, from a beautifully crafted episode of Homeland, a thoughtful magazine feature, an intelligent debate on the radio to an uploaded Gif of a cat yawning. Not all content is king. Some shouldn’t even be let through the city gates.

And just as there are chasms in quality between different content, so there are chasms in quality between different contexts for content. Context is queen – or maybe even Empress. Consider, as an example, the fact that half of non-TV online video is adult content. No doubt this provides a fertile context for some specialist advertisers, but it is hardly a world-beating brand-building environment. I can’t vouch for the quality of the content however.

You can see where I’m going here. I can tell. Yes, TV content offers consistently high quality and trustworthy contexts for advertising. But every so often a piece of TV planning comes along that marries content and context with perfection and we had one this weekend when The Times took over the entire ad break during Channel 4’s Homeland to run a short film about the kidnapping and escape of two of its journalists – Anthony Loyd and Jack Hill – in Syria.

Not only was it a compelling and moving piece of content in its own right, but in Homeland – a drama about the war on terror, where the action this series is set in Pakistan – it found the perfect context with the perfect audience. They echoed each other beautifully and this made The Times film all the more poignant as you saw fiction merge with reality seamlessly.

Contextual advertising like this is a very powerful and effective way to use TV. It requires the kind of close collaboration between broadcaster and brand which you’re unlikely to get programmatically. Other great examples include when the British Heart Foundation memorably went first in break during Coronation Street after Audrey suffered a heart attack, and – at the other end of the emotional scale – Oreo teamed up with TOWIE for an ad featuring stars from the show resolving an argument with a ‘lick race’, which is when you split an Oreo and race to see who can lick the cream off first (you get a biscuit each obvs).

You can watch The Times film here. And you really should anyway, especially if you value the incredible lengths some people go to on our behalves to send us content, regardless of the often perilous contexts they find themselves in.

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