French TV opens to retail Net ads

A recent decision has eased the restrictions on French retailers’ TV ads by allowing them to promote Websites. E-commerce companies have been quick to seize the initiative.

Not so long ago, media industry observers predicted the growth of the Internet would create a crisis for traditional channels and those, namely advertisers and agencies, that have traditionally depended on them.

Of course, the boom in e-business has changed the media landscape, but the predicted nightmare scenario has yet to develop. Anyone venturing into London’s Tube stations recently will have noticed the wall-to-wall coverage afforded to dot-com enterprises. Similarly, TV ad expenditure in the UK – and elsewhere – has risen on the back of online companies’ aggressive strategies.

This has occurred less in France because of restrictions, introduced in 1992, on retailers’ TV ads. Until now, the likes of Carrefour and Leclerc have been prevented from developing a strong televisual image. However, a recent decision by France’s Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA) may change this, albeit through the back door. The CSA reasoned that the law did not encompass the promotion of Websites, so there was no reason why they should be denied TV access.

The restrictions were first tested last year by iBazar – the online auction house. While rival QXL.com had previously failed to win approval to advertise on TV, after it positioned the company as an intermediary which facilitates contact between buyer and seller, iBazar and its agency were able to convince the authorities and become the first e-commerce company to run ads on French TV.

The campaign broke in September, at which time iBazar had 47,000 members. Three months later, membership had risen to 215,000.

Companies such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s have benefited from some memorable TV ads over the years, which have built distinctive corporate images and boosted sales. French retailers will continue to be prohibited from selling individual products or services, but the decision opens the way for companies such as Carrefour and Leclerc to enhance their corporate image through the promotion of company Websites.

Although the CSA has been asked by French culture minister Catherine Trautmann to review its decision, e-commerce companies have been quick to seize the initiative. The first ads may appear on the main national channel TF1 as soon as this week.

France’s ad agencies are experienced at operating under heavy restrictions, as their inventiveness in producing print ads for alcoholic drinks since the introduction of the Loi Evin – in 1991 – proves. It will be interesting to see them apply their creativity to TV, and to the new breed of client resulting from opportunities created by this latest decision.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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