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Talk of the site: Ryanair's schoolgirls and Thinkbox

LONDON - The two biggest topics that Brand Republic members discussed this week were Ryanair ignoring an ASA ad ban and the raison d'etre of Thinkbox, the future of television advertising.

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Ryanair's refusal to pull, at the ASA's request, its schoolgirl print ad showing a model dressed as a teenager in a provocative school uniform has split the community. Ryanair maintains the fully-clothed model is a lot tamer than the topless and partially clad women that red tops regularly feature.

Michael Byrne didn't buy that argument: "Whether or not the model is fully clothed, the sexualisation of a schoolgirl (real or not) to flog cheap tickets on a crap airline is not acceptable. Yes, some parts of the media do feature 'topless or partially dressed females', but don't allude to the women in question being underage. Ryanair's ad does and the ban is right."

Colin Montgomery agreed the ad is tasteless, but detects a double standard from people who "Watched Britney cavort about after double math in pigtails and a tartan belt for 'Hit me baby one more time' and not written a thunderous letter to The Times. Or watched St Trinians and not complained about how indecent it all is."

Dan Broadwood said this was another case for advertising taking the blame for society's ills: "The viewers should complain about the fact that men find this sort of thing appealing as opposed to Ryanair for catering to their desires.

"Furthermore, advertising is the scapegoat of the moment: 'It's advertising's fault our kids are fat, It's advertisings fault our kids are binge drinking. It's advertising's fault that kids enter a psychotic phase of immense greed just before Christmas'. I agree advertising plays a role but not as much as your upbringing."

Community member Paul Ashby created the provocatively-entitled forum thread 'The senselessness of Thinkbox!', which has sparked one of Brand Republic's most lengthy debates ever, of which a select few outtakes follow.

Paul Ashby began: "It is a complete irrelevance to the more serious Marketing Director. Why? Well it is designed to maintain the status quo. To keep commercial television in existence without changing the fundamental format of the commercial break.

"There are many ideas out there that would, substantially, improve the effectiveness of commercial television. However Thinkbox trots out, periodically, gibberish posing as research, designed to extract as much money as possible from the confused clients before the existing advertising bandwagon becomes obsolete!"

Vic Davies came to Thinkbox's defence: "What Thinkbox's research does is show that communication is complex and adds to countless other research projects that show that the link between communication and purchase is not just at 'the click of a button'.

"Lots of search clicks are behavioural, what happens after a process of confirming or changing attitudes or perceptions. And in various projects I 've been examining over the past few months there are strong indications that what type of marketing communication is the initial engagement and what is the end action that follows, varies by attitude, ownership and usage of technology, and that this varies again by technological platform.

"I might argue that commercial TV does not help itself in terms of BARB Industry research, but no, Thinkbox keep trying to show us how TV communicates and lets hope some people are clever enough to understand the implication of what that means."

Mark Hancock argued that clients vote with their wallets: "The fact that they spend on TV is going north means that there must be sufficient belief that it works reinforced through repeat patterns of comms planning behaviour.

"I have no problem with this and I always enjoyed the correlation between the ads that people 'like' and future purchasing intent -- it's there if you look hard enough -- Du Plessis worked this out years ago and wrote about it in 'The Advertised Mind' -- good read incidently. Thinkbox is an important voice but perhaps inwardly focussed -- agree with you there.

The really useful stuff is media complimentarity -- something that shifts the focus onto effectiveness rather than merely efficiency/reach. When Thinkbox start to do this properly it will earn the respect of marketing directors and give them the ability to justify and quantify the value of marcomms activity on share price and sales."

Eventually, Thinkbox chief executive joined in the fray. Tess Alps made several points including: "One of our problems is the constant barrage of ill-informed comment about TV, often from people who we call 'internet fundamentalists'; people who think there is only one way, who distort facts and who wish destruction on others. They do not wish to give any credit to the contribution any other form of advertising or marketing might have made to the online response.

"But we work very happily with enlightened internet companies and agencies who are prepared to look wider. In fact, we are in the middle of a joint study with the Internet Advertising Bureau to understand how the two media work together. Look out for the results in late spring.

"Far from wanting everything to stay the same, we are excited about the changes that are going on in TV. We think that internet technology will help TV reach people in new ways and at new times that will result in more TV being viewed."

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