X Factor: Retail dream or social nightmare?

Research shows that X Factor has become TV for the whole family. But is there a darker side to the programme’s popularity?

X Factor logo

Dallas, Dynasty, Morecambe and Wise. Primetime family gold. Then Noel’s House Party and Surprise Surprise. We couldn’t get enough. 

Now it’s iPads, notebooks and smart phones. 4OD and BBC iPlayer.

We consume TV when we want and how we want. We’re no longer confined to mainstream scheduling – making the rushing home for EastEnders a thing of the past.

All of which makes the results of a recent survey conducted by a London ad agency interesting. Because according to JWT, 80 per cent of us watch X Factor with loved ones, bucking the trend for mid-week, catch up lonesome viewing.  And for an impressive 64 per cent of us, watching with family is the reason we most love the show. This, it says, provides “the social glue of Saturday nights.”

Putting the X-Factor in family life

So what is it about the X Factor that keeps us staying in, wanting to spend time with our kids, grandmas or flatmates Saturday nights?

“Research shows that most viewers have an old-fashioned appreciation for the programme. It’s the simple things that we love, like discovering new talent (72%), appreciating the songs and music (68%) and being a part of the transformation of someone’s life (63%),” says JWT.

There is of course much more to it than that. The infiltration into the British media for one thing. No national newspaper, bar the Financial Times perhaps, is free from the sales allure of X Factor, because contestants sell papers.

And it’s not just kiss and tell either. Stories about this year’s Kitty Brucknell being bullied in the house has prompted a raft of anti-bullying campaigners to speak up on her behalf. Everybody jumps on the X Factor bandwagon. Simon Cowell’s web knows no limits.

Advertising boost

So consumed we are by consuming X Factor, advertisers, not content with just bagging the number one prime time slot, are trying to get in on the fame too. Last year, Yeo Valley bought the entire midway X Factor slot blowing its entire £5m advertising budget on it.

Yeo Valley’s music video of farmers rapping about its yoghurt was an overnight success. This year it is determined to repeat the glory and has made a music video of a spoof boy band called The Churned to screen as an advert. ITV screened an advert for advert.


Off-screen our obsession is fuelled too – and not about the singing. Jedward is the weird, surprise success of the X Factor 2010.

The identical twins double act/duo from Dublin came runners up last year but have gone onto win multiple advertising contracts with everyone from moneysupermarket.com to Shake ‘n’ Vac.  They’ve an impressive amount of records too, despite their unimpressive voices.

The love to hate novelty act has turned valuable and made them, Cowell and Louis Walsh, millions in the process.

A retail dream…

So driven to talk and share our like or dislike of the programme, Marks & Spencer, that class transcending harbinger of Britishness, has chosen X Factor as its savour. As the programme’s exclusive fashion partner, M&S hopes to get mums and especially their daughters to shop there.

In a press release issued last August, M&S’s executive director of marketing Steve Sharp said: “M&S joining forces with The X Factor makes perfect sense. Styling and fashion is a crucial part of The X Factor journey - for both the contestants and the viewers.

“So what better partners for the nation’s favourite entertainment show than the nation’s favourite retailer?”

But M&S would do well to observe JWT’s findings, because it’s not all good news for X Factor’s reputation.

….turns to nightmare

 “After seven series of the X Factor, 32 per cent feel that the programme has created both a fame-obsessed culture and a generation which believes that success can be achieved overnight,” says JWT.

Then there’s the press around Welsh contestant Ceri Rees, and the booing that Gary Barlow received when he tried to humiliate her by rifling through her handbag – this was edited out but widely reported.

Yet another common theme for the family to discuss: the show they love’s questionable ethics.

And of course X Factor is not alone. Shows like Jeremy Kyle have come under heavy fire for “human bear baiting” and for allegedly damaging family relations.

It seems even when the show does wrong it keeps us talking, keeps us glued. We can’t escape the chat factor.

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