LONDON: ITN, the production company behind ITV News, has built a significant audience via social media and believes brands should invest in social realism to remain relevant to consumers.

John Hardie, CEO of ITN, explained to Marketing Week how the business, which produces TV news bulletins for Channel 4 News and 5 News as well as ITV and which also manages the digital presence of all three, has focused on user-friendly social content to grow its audience.

So, for example, all video is produced in square aspect ratio so smartphone viewers don't have to tilt their phones while subtitles are standard so they can watch without sound.

Channel 4 News videos on Facebook reached 1.8bn people last year, he reported. And, unlike ad industry metrics, ITN only counts a view if someone is watching for four seconds or more; more than half of viewers watch for 60 seconds or more.

"This is hard-hitting stuff," Hardie added, as he noted the role of respected news gatherers in a world alarmed by the rise of fake news. "The importance of the brand – the news brand – has never been greater," he said.

But ITN is not just about news – it also has an advertising production arm which has garnered a reputation for innovation, such as the 60-second live ad it pulled together for Virgin Holidays.

One of the biggest opportunities Hardie sees is in so-called social realism, as advertisers forgo hero ads in order to be more agile in addressing consumer needs.

"Rather than make one ad for a million pounds that has to last for years ... [brands] want to be able to make new ads on a weekly or monthly basis that cost a lot less money but help them respond to what's on consumers' minds," he said.

And they need to couple that with digital activities. "You need the presence and impact of television, which is still unrivalled in its ability to hit a lot of people quickly with maximum effect, and you need the volume and responsiveness of mobile and social media [to build] relationships with those consumers," Hardie stated.

"I doubt many brands can be successful choosing one rather than the other – it's about having the combination."

Data sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff