War stories: Channel 4’s Prototype

For the first in a new series of stories looking at overcoming creative adversity, Chris Bovill and John Allison talk us through a project for Channel 4 which proved that making truly effective branded content can be a bumpy, complicated experience

In 2014, during an ad break in the X-Factor final, Channel 4 ran an unusual piece of film. A clip of a music video for the singer Viktoria Modesta, for her new song Prototype, the film also served as an ad for Channel 4 itself, for its ‘Born Risky’ style of programming.

The film that played on ITV pushed viewers online, where the full video for Prototype could be viewed. The promo and song were an immediate hit, reaching millions online and garnering reams of press coverage. At the video’s centre is a striking image: Modesta, who is an amputee, is shown wearing a dramatic bespoke prosthetic leg, designed as a single black spike. Disability is rare amongst pop stars, and often hidden, but Modesta placed it centre stage, and made it appear powerful and sexy.

To discover how this unexpected piece of branded content came to be made, and Channel 4’s somewhat unlikely place in it all, requires us to rewind back almost two years – which is how long the whole thing took. Examining the process also offers up something of a guidebook for the difference between creating advertising and ‘content’. Branded content is something that ad agencies often profess to do, but have rarely successfully pulled off. In the telling of the Prototype project, it is possible to see why.