Banging ITV’s heads together

It’s not often that a sequel betters the original. But the performance of Nestlé Rowntree marketing director Andrew Harrison at the Marketing Week TV2002 Conference in Prague was an exception that proves the rule.

It’s not often that a sequel betters the original. But the performance of Nestlé Rowntree marketing director Andrew Harrison at the Marketing Week TV2002 Conference in Prague was an exception that proves the rule.

It is difficult to remember an occasion when an advertiser has drawn up a more comprehensive, articulate and damning charge-sheet against the continuing failures of commercial TV. Some parts were familiar. How, for instance, an obsession with station politics and BBC ratings blinds it to the significance of its plight. The current media recession was not, he said, a ‘cyclical one-off’ but part of a major adjustment that could leave commercial TV, and particularly ITV, permanently weakened.

One obvious reason for this is the growing strength of more cost-effective alternative media for packaged goods advertisers like himself. Harrison made the telling point, for instance, that were Yorkie to adopt a carbon-copy TV strategy of its launch in 1978, this year’s relaunch would cost 36 times more, yet the retail price of the chocolate bar itself has risen only threefold.

But it isn’t simply that TV is pricing itself out of the market. It is also becoming structurally marginalised. While TV still labours under an old regime, brand manufacturers have been experiencing a revolution in the way they work.

Brand consolidation, such as Unilever’s acquisition of Bestfoods, means fewer core brands vying for airtime. Simultaneously, the concentration in the past ten years of 70 per cent of food expenditure through four retailers (soon, perhaps, three), has made trade marketing and PoP a compelling competitor to prime-time TV. Retailers – rather than the Net – are the new medium, says Harrison, and TV’s real enemy. Note, for instance, how P&G recently struck an exclusive deal with Tesco to launch its upmarket Physique haircare brand, rather than take the mainstream TV route to brand awareness (MW January 24).

This polemic proved sufficiently bracing for Harrison to score a direct hit with the constructive element of his message – which became the dominant theme of the conference. Commercial TV companies must subdue their adversarial trading relationships and club together to present a united, more appetising, medium. In short, what was needed was a Television Advertising Bureau, whose role would be to mirror the earlier success of the RAB.

How did this go down? The response was surprisingly positive in the circumstances. In a well-managed panel session at the end of the conference, Jerry Hill – a former ITV baron himself – persuaded ITV’s new marketing and commercial director Jim Hytner, and Granada Enterprises’ Graham Duff, to sign up to the TAB manifesto. Interactive Digital Sales managing director Mark Howe also signalled his approval. Hill might have corralled more supporters for the project, had Channel 4 and 5 sales executives bothered to turn up, while the phantom Carlton presence was nowhere to be seen.

Still, a declaration of intent is only the first hurdle. Who will pay for such an enterprise, how will it be managed (and by whom), and how long could it remain unaffected by internal competition, are just a few of the questions which spring to mind.

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