‘I’m a Celebrity’: Cleverer than it looks

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ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! is set to launch its 15th season this autumn.

It is hard to credit that a formula that has changed so little over the years has remained not only so popular but also manages to convey the impression of still being so fresh. What is it about extroverts being uncomfortable that makes for such compulsive viewing?

At the time of writing, the line-up for this year’s show remains under wraps, but tempting as it is, who is in – and who is not – isn’t the focus of this article.

A less publicly appreciated aspect of the programme is its vast commercial reach. Ant and Dec’s ability to decant the value from their jungle formula is one of commercial TV’s most profitable undertakings.


A winning formula

With a regular audience of 10 million viewers, and its own sizeable footprint in social media, I’m a Celebrity is one of ITV’s most profitable as well as popular productions. Inevitably Ant and Dec’s cheeky and irreverent delivery to camera is a key element of the show’s appeal, although the antics of the celebrities themselves are also compelling in a way that few other formats have been able to replicate.

A less publicly appreciated aspect of the programme is its vast commercial reach. Ant and Dec’s ability to decant the value from their jungle formula is one of commercial TV’s most profitable undertakings.


Expert marketing

I’m a Celebrity has been expertly marketed from the outset, but serial sponsorships, merchandising agreements and licences all contribute to a flow of money that shows no sign of drying up any time soon. The online bingo provider 32Red has been amongst the energetic companies to see the broader appeal that the franchise is able to capture. 32Red’s three-year brand extension deal with the show began in 2013.

It features familiar iconography and the show’s theme tune as part of a cutting edge online slot game on its online gaming site which competes with high street brands such as Ladbrokes bingo and William Hill bingo.

No stone is left unturned, it seems. One of the less commercially significant, but nonetheless newsworthy deals involving the franchise was announced in 2014. Even though he could not match the cash investment that a sponsorship would ordinarily involve Kent entrepreneur Ben Bartlett was able to convince the show’s bosses that his brand of edible insects would be the perfect partner to the programme.

Bartlett’s rebranded Bush Grub, featuring all manner of worms and insects has seen its sales transformed since the deal was struck. Contestants were even given Bush Grub treats as part of the 2014 season – a move that must have come perilously close to violating ITV’s product placement rules.


Frozen food for freshness

More overtly, the 2015 version of the show will see a new up-front sponsor to the programme. Replacing the now familiar Iceland frozen food slots, Aunt Bessies – another frozen food supplier – will provide the idents that mark the show’s ad break sequences. The deal is reportedly worth a cool £6 million.

Quite why the show should appeal so strongly to the frozen food industry is not known. A cynic might suggest that the show’s consistent delivery of a seemingly fresh – albeit highly packaged and prefabricated – product was a perfect metaphor for such a tie in. We couldn’t possibly comment.

Inevitably, the not-so closely guarded secret concerning who will or will not be entering the jungle generates its own buzz around the build up to the programme. That playful teasing of the audience has been extended to the show’s timings, with the news that it is to be screened on 15 November seemingly leaked via Twitter.


Tabloid staple

Such a clever play with the tabloid newspaper’s celebrity-oriented editorial agenda has become an annual ritual in its own right. The will-she-won’t-she speculation concerning Katie Price – aka Jordan – this year represents perhaps the perfect marriage of publicity generating speculation.

As well as the commercial spin offs that such celebrity-focussed media attention generates, the show’s formula itself has proven to be an international best seller. The format appears on TV in ten countries aside from the UK, including the hugely profitable US market.

The sale of such licenses is another significant earner for ITV and the show’s producers. The camps used in the programme are now a permanent TV set, with different contestants from different county’s versions of the show parachuted in according to a tight schedule.

Fifteen seasons in and I’m a Celebrity shows no sign of losing its hold on the public’s affection. Ant and Dec may look a little casual, but they are a lot cleverer than they look.