If it seems that the ad for the Crazy Frog ringtone is blaring out every time you turn on the TV, you are not far from the truth. Not only has the frog imposed itself on our cultural landscape by becoming the first ringtone character to have a number one in the UK singles chart, but Jamster, the company behind it, has set a record for the frequency of its television ads.
Aided by media agency MediaCom, the company decided to fire off 2000 messages a day - 83 times an hour - to convince consumers to pay £3 a week to receive downloads. The strategy has paid off - Jamster claims that the ringtone has been downloaded 11m times.
Yet industry experts believe this success comes at a price. They argue that the company is damaging the long-term viability of its brand, and that its non-stop bombardment could have a negative effect on advertisers running spots in the same commercial break.
In the first two weeks of May, when its terrestrial TV campaign began, Jamster broke with TV advertising norms, clocking up a phenomenal 36,382 spots across all channels, according to Nielsen Media Research. The majority of these were for the same Crazy Frog ringtone. To put Jamster's frequency into perspective, the next most frequent advertiser was McDonald's, on just 9780.
Over the first three weeks of May, Jamster's TV adspend was £7.8m, with terrestrial accounting for £6.3m. It will probably have clocked up a £10m spend for the month of May once the final figure is calculated.
Although Jamster, MediaCom and ITV have all refused to comment, the general industry view is that Jamster is setting a precedent. Starcom TV buying director Chris Williams believes its strategy is simple, unencumbered by sophisticated considerations such as the effect of repeat advertising on its brand values. 'It simply wants to chuck out as many ads as possible to make money,' he says.
Manning Gottlieb OMD managing partner Neil Hurman reasons that Jamster would not be spending such huge amounts if a clear return on investment was not being delivered, arguing that Jamster is setting new rules for quantity and spend over a short period. However, he warns that the company's invasion of the terrestrial advertising arena could have wider implications for the market, not least because the influx of money could force up prices for other advertisers.
Hurman adds that if viewers get sick enough of seeing something, they will 'exercise their right thumb' and flick to another channel for respite, missing out on the other ads in the break. A more dangerous effect could see audiences switch off 'emotionally', making the advertising a waste of money.
PHD Media broadcast director Adam Turner claims that any concerns surrounding Jamster have not yet reached advertisers, but he concedes that this could change if the heavy advertising continues and other ringtone firms, spurred on by Jamster's success, enter the terrestrial TV ad market. Turner believes this scenario cannot be ruled out, as ITV is 'desperate' for money.
A broader issue is that industry insiders believe the pervasive presence of an ad that has production qualities more traditionally at home on satellite channels could devalue the perception of the terrestrial ad break.
Fledgling television marketing body Thinkbox, set up to expound the virtues of the medium, side-steps questions on this issue. Official comments from the group will say only that the Jamster campaign has 'effectively connected with its youth target audience' and that it demonstrates the 'power of TV'.
Channel 4, which has not carried the campaign to the same extent as ITV, says it has had no complaints from advertisers nor loss of viewing share.
Although the broadcaster does not have repetition rules in place, its sales director Andy Barnes hints that limits came into play in this instance.
'Although we are a commercial broadcaster that relies on ad revenues, we have deliberately taken a more sensible stance on this,' he says.
For Starcom's Williams, debates over the value of the ad break are a largely futile exercise. 'In this multi-channel environment, most people are already exposed to these repetitive DRTV ads,' he argues. 'To preach that Jamster is lowering the tone will be irrelevant in three to five years' time when analogue is switched off, and is already irrelevant to most of the country.'
The refusal of ITV and MediaCom to comment on the matter could be an indication that apart from the obvious cash benefits, they cannot justify a bombardment of terrestrial TV that has prompted more than 600 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. In today's tough advertising market, if a company such as Jamster wants to put millions of pounds into TV advertising, concerns about taste and repetition inevitably become a side issue for both broadcasters and agencies.
But further down the line, when broadcasters find their brand values have been undermined, they may regret grabbing Jamster's millions without considering the long-term effects.
This article was first published on Marketing