Advertisers that espouse their belief in great design, such as Nintendo, Smart Car and Dyson, have already signed up for the slots on May 4, broadcast during what is regularly Channel 4's best-performing show, with 4 million viewers.
"Grand Designs" features people pursuing their architectural dreams, following their "structural, financial and emotional journey" as they build a new home from scratch. The new season goes live for the first time next month with a weeklong cluster of daytime and prime-time specials in which the popular host, Kevin McCloud, will build his own house.
Channel 4 plans to do follow-up research on how the "Grand Designs" themed break does, looking at continuity of viewing across the break and asking viewers what they thought of it.
"Themed breaks are an extension and greater formalization of the creative buys TV buyers have always targeted. By linking the creative of the commercial with the program content, the commercial carries greater standout and cut-through with the viewer," said Jacqueline Peacock, TV director at ZenithOptimedia.
"It might well make the audience enjoy the ad break more and keep watching. Themed ad breaks ensure the commercial break has a strong association with the program, thus blurring the lines between ads and the show," she said. "The question from the marketer point of view is, Does a design ad stand out more if it's around similar ads or if it is on its own in a break? Much will depend on the creative."
ZenithOptimedia recently developed "British Sandwich Week" on behalf of its client, Kingsmill bread. Part of the push included "sandwich breaks" advertising only products that make good sandwich fillings, with a Kingsmill credit at end of each break.
Mind the gap, please
Mike Parker, head of strategic sales at Channel 4, said, "We are really trying to innovate the ad break to keep people watching in this DVR world where people zap through the commercial break. The themed break creates value for advertisers because people watch commercials in a different way and are more likely to stick with it."
Other themed breaks created by Channel 4 include a retro break around the channel's 25th anniversary in November 2007, where advertisers ran ads from 2007 and 1982 back to back. With the changes in advertising rules since 1982, there was some difficulty in finding suitable ads to run, but Procter & Gamble, Carlsberg, British Telecom and Disney all got involved.
An environmentally themed break was created for a reality series called "Dumped," in which participants had to live off garbage for a month. In a series of British films on Channel 4's sister channel, Film 4, British-themed ads were invited to buy particular slots.
Mr. Parker also is encouraging longer, more film-like ads on movie channel Film 4. A 20% discount is available to ads of 60 seconds and over, and he has also set up creative awards for the best longer ads in association with some of the U.K.'s top directors and agencies.