TV ads struggle in Scandinavia

Scandinavian countries have never had a positive view of television advertising, and if anything the situation appears to be getting worse, as John Shannon reports. John Shannon is president of Grey International

Scandinavia was regarded as the final frontier for commercial broadcasting in Europe. When it finally launched in the late Eighties, the appeal of television was expected to grow as it had elsewhere.

A recent survey, however, shows the Scandinavian preference for the printed word is hard to shift. A poll by Delfi Marketing Services claims two out of every three Swedes have a positive attitude to print advertising, while only one in five holds the same opinion of TV ads. The figures also show a deterioration since 1991, when 50 per cent of respondents were positive about TV advertising.

A similar picture is emerging in Norway, where print advertising revenues rose by 25 per cent dur-ing the first few months of the year compared with only two per cent for TV.

In contrast, the most recent available Advertising Association figures show UK attitudes towards TV ad-vertising have remained stable.

Some commentators argue that the current Scandinavian malaise reflects a latent distrust of TV advertising, of which the country’s opposition to advertising to children is symptomatic.

Their stance on this issue may appear quixotic but it stems from a sense of social responsibility, not an opposition to TV advertising itself. There is, however, abundant evidence that Scandinavians are discerning consumers of media and that they are dissatis-fied with much current television work.

In a culture where the written word has predominated, Scandinavians tend to respond intellectually and critically to their media. As a visual medium, TV is arguably often more dependent on an emotional response for its effect.

Advertisers have initially sought market domination through heavy media expenditure rather than attention to creative execution. They may well find that they have made short-term gains at the expense of alienating consumers in the long term – by fuelling their dissatisfaction with the medium itself.

The solution must be for advertisers to ensure that their creative output is more closely tuned to local consumer tastes. Scandinavian agencies may have to look closely at developing television advertising that is more nar-rative in style, as illustrated by Scandinavian Airline Systems’ (SAS) Cannes Gold award-winning work.

At the same time media owners should seek to develop a greater diversity in the categories of advertisers which use the medium.

It is important to address these problems if commercial television in Scandinavia is to fulfil its early potential and if TV advertising is to become the powerful medium that it is in other markets.

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