How a multi-channel digital approach lifted ITV's Love Island success

03 August 2018 7 min. read
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After the culmination of another year of successful programming for ITV’s commercial juggernaut Love Island, the retail industry would do well to learn from the show’s lucrative mix of interactive marketing. According to Gate One Consultant James Brewin, the format carefully mirrors modern life for many young people, presenting a major opportunity to market as a consumable brand.

Gate One was founded in 2013 by Simon Dennis, Tim Phillips, David Holliday and Alex McEvoy. Three years after its inception, Gate One reached the milestone of fifty colleagues  – on the back of its growth the firm was named one of UK's top 100 start-ups by for multiple years, ranking 15th most recently. Based at London’s South Bank, the management consulting firm specialises in business transformation services, working for clients across a range of sectors, including financial services, travel, consumer goods, energy and government.

In line with the consultancy’s commitment to innovation, since his arrival in summer 2017, James Brewin has taken the road less travelled as a consultant. A year of diverse engagements notably saw the former EY employee among a team of 13 Gate One team members to brave a 13 mile assault course, in the name of Coin Street Community Builders, a charity operating in Gate One’s South Bank backyard. Now, in the hope of helping clients in the retail sector to improve a sluggish 2018, Brewin has issued some unconventional advice: look to Love Island.

The Gate One Consultant admitted to getting “a lot of stick for being a Love Island fan”, although he believes that given its estimated daily audience of 3 million for the past 2 months, and the subsequent 48% boost to ITV’s online revenues – as well as helping the company's profits in the 6 months to 30 June to £265 million pre-tax – a much needed “suspension of snobbery” is required, in order to understand why Love Island has been so successful.

How a multi-channel digital approach lifted ITV's Love Island success

Love Island is a reality television show produced by UK broadcaster ITV each summer, marooning a cast of young singles looking for a summer of romance on an island in Majorca. Having recently completed its fourth run with the coronation of winning couple Jack Fincham and Dani Dyer (daughter of EastEnders regular Danny Dyer), the format is riding high, having brought in audience ratings which had previously thought to have died out with the birth of multi-channel television. As well as its die-hard supporters, who regularly tweeted about the series villain ‘Dr Alex’ with the severity of a war-criminal standing trial on the show, Love Island show understandably has its detractors, including a number who suggest the show’s manufactured drama between couples could be genuinely damaging to their mental health, as well as the allegedly emotionally abusive behaviour from contestants, and the promotion of unhealthy attitudes toward body image. However, while those debates are set to trundle on inconclusively, millions will undoubtedly tune in for next year’s edition, and its successful formula apparently presents a number of key lessons for retailers.

Brewin elaborated, “In my opinion, it's not just the format and plot lines, and there is a lot to learn for any organisation looking to better engage their customers. Look a little closer, and you'll see that it is more than just a TV show: it is a fully immersive and integrated digital experience (with a relentlessly commercial focus), of which TV is just one of many content, engagement and e-commerce channels. The whole experience has been carefully designed to perfectly fit the needs of a multi-screen generation which expects services which mirror their lives, interact with them and quickly meet their demands.”

Improving the customer experience offered by a brand has reached the top of many an executive agenda in recent months, as heightened competition resulting from digitally capable start-ups has seen many established retailers struggle to hold onto their previous market share. According to a recent study by Accenture, UK companies which fail to maintain customer relevance could stand to forfeit over £100 billion in the coming years. For this reason, a compelling customer experience has become an integral part of any business, with nine in ten firms informing researchers they were working to innovate around their customer experiences.

To this end, Brewin asserted that retailers would struggle to do better than looking to Love Island’s innovative form of in-play marketing. Cleverly playing on the narrative function of the reality show, which in many ways prompts viewers to relate to certain contestants, experiencing Love Island vicariously through the sun-soaked if occasionally air-headed cast, the latest season of the hit show featured a relentless focus on interactivity, personalisation and commerciality, moving viewers from simply being 'viewers' to being quasi-participants.

Innovative strategy

Brewin noted, “Viewers are encouraged to download the Love Island App (sponsored by Superdrug, clearly) where they can not only vote for what happens in the show (who gets dumped, who gets saved, who goes on dates, what should happen next etc… with approximately 2 million expected to have voted to choose the winning couple), but engage with live-polls and discussions about unfurling plot lines in real-time (around 250,000 people take part in most polls) and shop for and purchase the outfits worn by contestants as they appear on the TV screen.”

This last point is made all the more enticing to impressionable fans by options for personalisation, meaning viewers can buy accessories featured on the show such as water bottles and wristbands featuring their chosen name or message. On top of this, audiences can wield their smart phones to access content exclusively available on the app, such as curated contestant show-reels and Q&A with contestants via social media, as well as a gateway to Influencer podcasts [offering further marketing opportunities], and the chance to apply for tickets to real-life experiences to meet islanders, or visit the locations featured in the show. In short, consumers are invited to believe that they can ‘live’ the show by spending their money on it.

Further to this, and similarly to a number of blockbuster Hollywood releases in the previous decade, Love Island even has its own video game tie-in. Viewers can subsequently download and play the 'Love Island Game' – a role-play style game where viewers can 'live out' their own Love Island experience via their phones.

Naturally, ITV’s favourite cash-cow also factors in a substantial presence for its efforts on social media. Viewers are regularly encouraged to follow the official accounts of the show and the contestants – with last year’s stars still raking in thousands in sponsorship from this – begging fans to join in “the conversation” among some 2.1 million Instagram followers and 900,000 Twitter followers. Popular comments from viewers on both platforms regularly feature in the show, and influence the behaviour of the contestants, the producers and the show's Narrator (e.g. through the 'Twitter Bingo' game), further incentivising fans hungry to become part of the experience to continue engaging with the brand, and open themselves up to further marketing and consumption in the process.

Concluding, Brewin praised ITV for the multifaceted approach to peddling its now-keystone brand, stating, “Both the plot lines of the show itself and the digital infrastructure which is used to deliver them to the audience carefully mirror the way life works for young people today. Add to this the relentlessly commercial approach applied and you have a powerful model for success in an age when the customer's voice grows ever louder.”