Media strategies must share blame for ad failure

Marketers rarely blame media strategy for the failure of advertising campaigns, but it is time for those in charge of media to start taking their fair share of responsibility when things do go wrong. Phil Georgiadis is chief executive of Initi

If the small ad read: “Those responsible for the campaign that recently went down the Swanee please ring the following number,” there would, of course, be very few replies. However, in the real world clients feel they already know the numbers. The question is, who do they ring, and why?

Sharing the blame for a relationship that went wrong is – not unnaturally – high on the agenda for a beleaguered advertiser. The alluring creative product may seem suddenly unattractive.

The media strategy, meanwhile, frequently gets relegated to an incidental, marginally incriminating, irritation factor. For the most part, the blame is placed on the mesmerising voice that spoke so falsely, not on the clothes that hid the less than perfect body.

In this way apportioning the responsibility for success or failure is unbalanced. Instinct should be replaced by analysis.

Mercury’s Oliver and Claire is a relationship on the rocks. While they go their separate ways, it is left to us to wonder what went wrong. Emotionally, we assume that the cause of the bust-up was its lack of creativity and flair.

I suspect any claims that the media strategy for Mercury’s campaign was the cause of its failure – the choice of media and its weight and phasing – was relegated to a secondary cause.

The media event that launched the campaign caused a stir in the industry. Every available space in The Sunday Times Business section was bought. This was followed, after a substantial gap, by the broader impact of a TV campaign.

How many readers would have bothered to plough through the ads. Initiative Media research suggests most business readers skim the pages for news relevant to them. And could the print campaign have been more effective if it had followed a TV awareness blitz ?

Now Dawn French has been spurned by the cable companies. A creative issue or a broader communication problem? What role did media strategy play in the pre-campaign discussions?

My feeling is that they should invest in a campaign that more directly recruits subscribers, leaving the brand-building to the likes of BSkyB. In this scenario, the media pattern would by definition have been totally different.

Whatever caused Oliver, Claire and Dawn to fall out of favour is for others to apportion blame. My concern is the extent to which the media strategy was considered at fault. The necessity for recognition of media accountability has never been more relevant.

Placing media effectiveness in its proper context requires a greater understanding from marketing directors. A snap judgement on why an affair failed to develop into a meaningful relationship is easier to make than balancing all the factors to learn lessons for next time.

For example, if a media strategy is quiet and unobtrusive, steady and even invisible, that does not lessen its importance. It is possible to be honest and dispassionate without getting hysterical.

Oliver and Claire may have had more of a chance if they had gone out more frequently to modest candlelit suppers in Islington rather than blowing their budget on a slap-up meal in Le Gavroche, leaving money for only a couple of dismal evenings in The Mouth of the Ganges, Merton.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here