Freeview Advert: ‘You Must Conform’

Well, this is interesting. I wonder how many people spat out their half-time lager/tea/laverbread during the England/Wales rugby world cup advert break – or choked on their acid during This Is England 1990 on Channel 4 – when they saw the ‘cat and budgie’ Freeview advert interrupted by a robot a bit like ED209 from Robocop marching towards them and telling them to conform (and upgrade and subscribe).

I had to wind it back myself, just to check what I’d actually seen. Sure enough, there’s a little interference at the start of the advert, which slowly gives way to what looks like a pirate feed interrupting the usual ITV signal.

Freeview advert You Must Conform

What is this? A They Live!-style subconscious message we suddenly all became aware of? A pirate signal? A spot of adbusting? No, it’s a Freeview advert that’s needling the Sky/Virgin/BT orthodoxy of how we watch television these days. Here’s why – and how:

We are moving towards an economic system that’s based on subscriptions. This makes sense when you think about it. Most of our digital services – and much of the hardware the serves them – are subscribed to. You don’t buy Virgin – you lease a box and the services from them. You don’t buy the internet, online storage or telephony. If you think about it you subscribe to your utilities. You don’t just pay a one-off fee and get electricity for the rest of your life. You only ever really ‘own’ your house after 30 years of the most expensive hire-purchase agreement you’ll ever enter into.

Telecommunications, multimedia and infotainment systems also run like this, because it’s easier to upsell packages in this manner and because these apps and systems regularly need upgrading. I suspect we will move towards a subscription system in many walks of life – mobility, food, leisure – in the next couple of decades.

Why buy a car you use for four per cent of the time when it depreciates like a lead ballon? Why not, instead, pay a monthly fee for an integrated transport service that includes use of a car (like ZipCar), access to taxis (like Uber) and public transport? Frankly that system makes a lot more sense in some regards.

But here’s the rub – and why the ‘hacked’ Freeview advert. When getting TV services you buy a 12-, 24- or 36-month subscription that looks great value. You get hardware, continued services and some added fripperies. And then six months later you get a letter saying your monthly bills have to rise. And six months later you get another. Then your set-top box becomes redundant and you have to upgrade. Then everything’s on HD so you have to upgrade again. Then you have to get some brilliant new channel because that programme all your mates are watching means upgrading.

Before you know it you’re paying £100 a month to watch a bit of telly, look at the internet and rent a landline (here’s my regular BBC bit too – you complain about the licence fee and then pay a grand a year to watch adverts. What’s wrong with you?).

And that’s what this Freeview advert is about. We’ve sleepwalked into stumping up a grand a year to watch more telly. As far as I’m concerned this hasn’t made me happier, expanded my horizons or meaningfully opened up quality new television to me. So recently I lost patience, on receipt of another letter from Virgin telling me I had to pay more for the same service – and I slashed my package.

I pay the minimum amount for the minimum number of channels and I honestly have not noticed the difference. In all likelihood I’ll buy a Freeview box before long and be done with the whole silly merry-go-round of subscribe-upgrade-conform.

Which, for me, makes this clever advertising from Freeview – certainly it makes more of an impact than the cat-and-budgie ads or even the lovely Left Behinds advert. They’re quite nice, but they didn’t really mean much to me.

This Freeview advert certainly got people talking – and it seems to have genuinely rattled people. For my money, anything that gives people a jolt while they’re shovelling takeaways and sugary gak down their gaping maws as they stare slack-jawed at the telly is fine by me.

Normal service will now be resumed…

Set Yourself Free Freeview Advert

Here’s the full – and pretty lengthy – Freeview advert these inserts have been building up to. It’s called Set Yourself Free.

And here’s a load of bumph about the entire campaign from Freeview.

Freeview, the UK’s no.1 TV platform, is set to unveil its biggest ever advertising campaign to launch connected TV service Freeview Play.

Airing today (Friday 2 October) the new TV Freeview advert Set Yourself Free will launch as a premiere ad break during Emmerdale under ITV’s Proud to Present banner and will be introduced by the channel’s continuity announcer. The advert is a two minute CGI film which opens in an Orwellian world with an army of TVs brainwashing inhabitants to ‘conform’, ‘upgrade’ and ‘subscribe’.

In this world is the advert’s young Hero TV, at odds with those around him, and a girl with her dog who long for a better way to watch TV. As the Freeview Play Hero TV escapes the dystopian world, the viewer follows his journey until he is united with the girl and dog and opens up a whole new world of free-to-air television to them.

Set Yourself Free is set to a new version of the iconic I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables performed by Sarah Kingsmill and recorded specially for the advert. Since last Saturday Freeview has been teasing the new campaign with a version of the brand’s Cat and Budgie advert interrupted by an evil TV from Set Yourself Free.

The TV campaign will also include 60 and 40 second versions plus Freeview adverts which explain the features and benefits of Freeview Play. It will also be complemented by in-store, print and outdoor advertising as well as digital and social activation.

Freeview Play launches this month and combines catch-up TV, on-demand services and live television, bringing the ability to watch what you want, when you want, as easily as possible, to the mass market. The service is free from subscription and works with all existing broadband services.

Guy North, Freeview Managing Director, said: “Freeview Play is the biggest development in the brand’s history and our new advert perfectly illustrates that with it viewers are now free to choose the TV service that best meets their needs.”

Owen Jenkinson, Freeview Head of Marketing, said: “Set Yourself Free is really an emancipation story. The aim of the advert is to challenge category norms and show that there is a better, savvier way to watch free TV in a visually striking and compelling narrative.”

Set Yourself Free was created by Leo Burnett with visual effects by Electric Theatre Collective. MEC is Freeview’s media buying agency.

Freeview advert press release

Classic BBC2 1990s Lambie-Nairn Idents

I’ll happily admit to being fascinated by things that other people wouldn’t think twice about. Subterranea, industrial architecture, TV incidental music, nuclear power stations. Something I’ve always loved is vintage TV clips, and particularly idents. As any fool knows, the best ever produced were BBC2 1990s idents. Funny, ambient, beautiful, clever and an instantly recognisable colour and sound palette.

I expect they worked well as branding exercise because they’re what I most associate with BBC2 – the best channel of the five I had regular access to in the 90s. This is strange, because BBC2 at the time was a hodge-podge of comedy, gardening, mainly duff sports, sci-fi, documentaries, news and old films. How you create a brand identity out of that lot I don’t know, but I suppose the brief was to create something irreverent, intelligent and recognisably different. In that, I have no doubt that it succeeded.

BBC2 idents

These particular idents – often back on television again during the afternoon on BBC2 – are so ingrained on me as I had dozens of video tapes in that decade with taped shows on. Red Dwarf, Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, This Life, Star Trek, repeats of Doctor Who – I probably still have them somewhere. Add in the first Channel 4 idents – and the myriad of associations I have with them, including many of the first televised breasts I ever saw – and you can see the impact Lambie-Nairn had on a generation of boob-tube watchers.

Little moments of old television like this are so powerful because they operate on an almost subliminal level of consciousness when you’re watching them – they’re not supposed to be especially noticeable, but you probably watched hundreds of hours of them if you were watching TV in the 90s.

When they disappear you don’t really notice, but when you see them again the recall is powerful, and with it the nostalgia of the era: where you were; who you were with; what TV shows were on at the time. It’s the same with certain smells, certain objects. As each year passes I find this sort of instant recall tinged with melancholy, multiplying the powerful effect they have.

What’s more, these BBC2 idents were on TV when I was coming of age – discovering new ideas, getting into films, watching documentaries, becoming aware of sex, drugs and a life beyond what I’d known up til then. BBC2 was a gentle, benign guide into that frightening, exhilarating world for me, so the effect of the idents is multiplied again.

On top of that the 90’s BBC2 idents are obviously utterly brilliant. There are certain others from 80s ITV brands that have a similar appeal to me, but these creations – by Martin Lambie-Nairn – are as good as they get. Beguiling, slightly esoteric, rather beautiful. Let’s not forget the subtle music beds that accompanied them either – probably the sort of thing I would have listened to after a very late night out in my early 20s. My favourites were always Copper Cutout, Powder, Steam and Neons.

A number of speciality idents appeared throughout the decade, never straying too far from an obvious brand ID, but all with enough wit and obvious skill to prevent the exercise simply becoming a smug in-joke. They were bolstered by the introduction of 2s with something of a character in 1997.

The classic 90s idents were retired in 2001 and while the current BBC2 lot aren’t a bad set there’ll never be another set like Lambie-Nairn’s first. The replacements – from 2001-2007 – were a little more self-consciously wacky, I thought, and imbued the BBC2 logo with a cutesie personality. They lacked the simple, enigmatic charm of the originals, to my mind.

By comparison we’ve recently had Channel 4’s baffling floating shapes, BBC1’s swimming hippos and infamous Bloody Big Balloon. All pretty duff, by my reckoning.

Idents then. Daft, discardable, distracting. But I challenge you to watch these and not get a little bit wistful. Clever little snapshots of the past, a different world.

• Predictably, the wonderful TV Ark has a feature on the BBC2 idents.

• You can watch loads of BBC2 idents from the last 20 years on the BBC