3 lessons from a 5-year campaign: how our TV Licensing challenge could be applied to nearly all brands


Everyone in our industry knows what it’s like; months, even years, spent slaving away on a deeply honed strategy, conceiving and selling your most cherished idea and then crafting an execution to within an inch of its life. Then wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, a quick three week burst of fevered media activity and whoosh your precious campaign is gone, never to be seen again.

Well, this time our problem was the opposite. Imagine if you knew people would be watching your spots for five years. That’s right – guaranteed regular, consistent airplay for five years. Five years. Bit scary, isn’t it?

Our latest campaign is for TV Licensing and because the trails are funded by licence fee payers and need to provide excellent value for money it wouldn’t be appropriate to invest in more frequent campaigns.

So that was our challenge. Make something that will bear repeat viewing for five years, for a brand that collects the licence fee.

In the process, we believe we learned three lessons that are valuable for any brand:

1. If you want to be timeless, reach back into the past

Fashion changes quickly. Your phone today will look very different to your phone in a few years’ time. So, if you don’t want to look out-of-date, avoid trying to look up-to-date. Much better to go back in time. Because the 80s will still be the 80s in five years.
For TV Licensing, we took a trip through history creating a campaign that referenced dramatic tropes from the most iconic TV series and films to appear on our screens from the 80s to the present day. With nods to everything from teenage buddy movies to American style soap operas, the campaign highlights that with modern convenient ways, paying for your TV Licence ‘needn’t be a drama’.

2. Big ideas are not just for audiences

All campaigns need a big idea. It builds recognition and understanding of your brand amongst consumers. But campaigns that last five years need them even more. They are going to have to stand the test of time as the flag-bearer of your brand.
The wonderful by-product of this is the impact it has within an organisation. Knowing you need to stick to a strategy and express it through a big idea for five years, sure focuses minds. Everyone needs to buy into the single-minded strategy and can’t waver. By the end of the process, a collective understanding and goal is shared by all.
In this case we all decided TV Licensing needed to fundamentally shift the rhetoric around their brand to a more positive discussion. Because they are unlikely to feature near the top of consumers’ most-loved brands list. After all, it’s a compulsory fee, paid to watch any live TV or BBC programmes on iPlayer. But the BBC programmes and services funded by the licence fee are cherished and loved by many. So, TV Licensing used the opportunity to shout about this instead.

3.The devil is in the detail

You folks are going to be seeing these spots A LOT. 
Now craft is, of course, always crucial in any piece of work, but if you’re going to really engage over time, keep your eye on the detail. 
We have buried Easter eggs and details in the background of our spots to reward the more eagle-eyed of viewers. For example, in the 80s American soap opera execution you may notice some true-to-genre mistakes; a broken vase reappearing, a body double, the entire set lighting up from the flick of one lamp being switched on. All of which are mistakes that would have happened in the original show (there was no playback on the set in those days), and we hope will provide a little extra interest for you when you see it again in 2023.  

View the work here.

Jim de Zoete, Deputy Executive Creative Director