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Tennant Ad Causes Kerfuffle

By April 9, 2012

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David Tennant in the Virgin ad, using TiVo as a form of time travel.

David Tennant in the Virgin ad, using TiVo as a form of time travel.

© Virgin Media

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David Tennant's latest gig has ruffled a few feathers across the pond.

We're not talking about his casting in a wartime drama called The Spies of Warsaw, as a French spy opposite Janet Montgomery (Human Target, Black Swan). It's from the guys who created The Likely Lads, Porridge, Lovejoy, and a bunch of other hit shows familiar to Anglophiles by name if not by content.

No, this is about Tennant's ad for Virgin Media, which brazenly tries to cash in on the actor's association with Doctor Who. BBC suits are demanding the ad be pulled.

It's not just a matter of Tennant's face being so reminiscent of Who--in fact, it's a lot more blatant. Virgin Media is specifically gearing the ad toward showing its TiVo service as a form of "time travel," allowing you to see programs that have already aired.

Not only that--in the ad, Tennant, who appears as himself (natural Scottish accent and all), is using Virgin's TiVo service to actually look up Doctor Who, the logo for which is lovingly displayed--all while Branson is shown goofing around with a Virgin-branded, phone box-sized time-travel capsule.

It was quite a long time ago that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward did commercials, more or less in character, for Pr1me Computers (with the smart-aleck machine even urging Baker to "marry the girl," which he did). Not only was that over thirty years ago, but it was not exactly for a competing service--whereas Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Media delivers television content, as well as phone and internet, to UK customers.

Still, the Tennant ad, like Baker's, seems at first blush like harmless fun. It does apparently violate strict BBC rules about use of their brands and trademarks by other companies, though, and a BBC source told the Daily Mail and other papers: "Virgin did not run this advert past us and if they had, it probably would have been turned down."

What does Virgin say? Nothing human. "Our new campaign explores some of the benefits of Virgin Media TiVo," said a statement, "including the ability to search for your favourite actor and discover TV programmes, films and YouTube content available live, on demand and as catch-up TV." It's such a great service, it totally outcools things that Virgin itself actually cares about when it comes to its own products, like brand protection and intellectual property.

Then again, when it comes to intellectual property piracy, Richard Branson is the one corporate exec you can imagine actually being a pirate.
Tags: David Tennant, BBC, Doctor Who, Virgin Media
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