Open minds will avoid quagmire of inflation

With the digital age looming, advertisers are threatened by reduced audiences. However, greater experimentation and risk-taking will help to keep the spectre of media inflation at bay. By Mike Tunnicliffe. Mike Tunnicliffe is managing director

The brave new world is just around the corner, or so we are led to believe, with digital satellite and digital terrestrial leading to the development of interactive television on a grand scale.

The plethora of new channels will cater for a wide range of interests, allowing consumers the sort of in-depth coverage they currently get from specialist magazines.

While we shouldn’t expect any one of these channels to secure a massive slice of the overall TV audience, together they will take audience from existing terrestrial stations, putting yet more pressure on ITV’s audience and hence the cost of reaching it.

A declining ITV audience won’t be the only issue affecting advertisers’ ability to reach audiences. The increased level of “commercial clutter” will have a detrimental effect as it becomes more difficult to reach the consumer. A consumer that is becoming less interested in advertising: according to research conducted by CIA Medialab, over 25 per cent of all adults “would rather pay a subscription fee to watch a TV channel rather than a free one with ads”.

In this scenario, one could see the cost of conventional terrestrial TV increasing even further if advertisers continue to insist on media strategies that try to achieve historic levels of rapid, mass market reach and to deploy more money in a declining, but still high-volume, ITV audience.

So, what do advertisers need to do to ensure that convention does not drive hyper-inflation? The answer is obvious: start to think about maximising “share of mind” rather than share of voice, using improved targeting and airtime deployment techniques. Innovation and creativity in the use of media will help campaigns cut through much more than buying cheap mass TV.

This would involve broadcast sponsorship that is properly leveraged; involvement in making and supplying programmes that feature and enhance brands (of which there will be plenty of opportunity, given that over 100 channels will be looking to fill their airwaves with programming); and even the development of a product specific digital TV channel (if the Independent Television Commission weren’t reading this, I’d even recommend a bit of product placement to help you along).

The only problem is that it’s going to be a damn sight more difficult than the old way of doing things. But it will be a lot more fun, a lot less safe but possibly a lot more rewarding.

However, unless we see some fundamental changes to the way advertisers and agencies/media companies think, then this process of change is going to be more painful than it should be. So my plea to advertisers is to start to experiment with less conventional solutions, don’t judge the agency’s performance on the basis of cost per thousands and discounts delivered. Reward them, and encourage them to be innovative and creative in their use of media.

Media specialists need to invest in either training or bringing people in from non-conventional backgrounds so that the challenge of planning and executing multi-faceted “media communications” campaigns, is not such a daunting task.

Above all, you need to be prepared to take calculated risks. As the old saying goes: “You have to speculate to accumulate”, and in the brave new world that’s just around the corner, there’s plenty of opportunity to speculate.

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