'Punch' is the part of the Festival of Marketing that celebrates creativity, and few organisations can be said to be as creative as Channel 4.

In fact it’s within the broadcaster’s official remit to be innovative and distinctive while also developing new talent.

C4 is state owned, but it doesn’t receive any taxpayer’s money and remains a not-for-profit organisation. Therefore all of its revenue is ploughed back into making new programmes.

And at Punch this afternoon C4’s chief marketing and communications officer Dan Brooke gave a peak under the hood of some of its recent marketing campaigns, which are also geared towards fulfilling its innovative and risk-taking mantra.

Brooke highlighted case studies for the Paralympics and Grand National as evidence of this risk-taking strategy...


The ad campaign for the Paralympics involved a series of adverts aimed at raising awareness of the Games once the Olympics had finished.

It began with the “Meet the Superhumans” creative that focused on the athletes’ stories but without any mawkishness or sympathy.  

This was followed by “Thanks for the warm-up” ads that set the tone for the event with “attitude and swagger.” The idea was to infer that the Olympics were merely a prelude to the real excitement of the Paralympics.

As a result of the campaign:

  • 11.6m people watched the opening ceremony.
  • In a survey eight out of 10 people felt Paralympians were as talented as Olympic athletes after seeing the advertisements.

What did they learn?

Brooke said that the main lesson they learned was to “be true to your product.”

We spent a lot of time with the organisers and athletes, and learned that at the heart this is an elite sport. The level of competitiveness has moved on considerably from people’s perceptions and the athletes are training side-by-side with Olympic athletes.

The ‘superhumans’ ad was seen as a particular risk as it portrayed the athletes’ scars in a “warts and all” way, which was the first time it had been done.

Even though in hindsight this seems like an obvious way to advertise the Games, at the time it felt like we were taking a big risk.

The entire campaign was done by C4’s in-house marketing team working together with the in-house ad team, including the strategy, creative, script and editing.

Brooke believes this is C4’s secret weapon, as everyone knows the brand and works closely together. 

There are no agendas, everyone is focused on the same thing. We think it works, and it seems to work in the view of the outsider as well.

Grand National

The next campaign that Brooke discussed was for the Grand National, which featured a TV ad that showed horses galloping through public parks and allotments.

The strapline for the campaign was “The original extreme sport,” which was seen as risky due to horse racing’s reputation. 

Adopting a slightly edgy strategy can cause problems for C4’s in-house press team, as there’s an obvious desire to try and avoid negative coverage at all costs.

However when your mission is to be distinctive you end up with content that tends to stimulate debate. You don’t always get it right, but that is the nature of taking risk.

On this occasion though, the risk paid off and C4 attracted a peak audience of more than 10m which was higher than many of the BBC’s recent Grand National broadcasts.

David Moth

Published 10 October, 2013 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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