Time for thinking outside the box

Three headline – and apparently unlinked – events have happened in the world of marketing and media over the past week. The first was the not altogether unexpected defection of Trevor Beattie and Andrew McGuinness from TBWA to form a new agency; the second, the launch of a new strategic advisory arm at Saatchi & Saatchi called Industry@Saatchi; and the third, the annual Marketing Week TV Conference, in which platform speaker after speaker graphically demonstrated the decline of television advertising, but failed to illuminate a coherent solution to the problem.

In fact, the three events are interconnected, although only thematically. Let’s start with the TV Conference in Paris. There were moments when it began to resemble a Stalinist Central Committee plenum. Representatives from the likes of BT, Masterfoods, Procter & Gamble, Sony and Unilever successively proclaimed their former loyalty to television advertising, and then denounced it for failing to respond to present requirements. The sound bites tell their own story: Unilever’s Alan Rutherford complained that ten per cent more ratings were needed to achieve the same awareness levels as five years ago; over the same period BT’s Steve Huddleston said the telecoms company had slashed its TV spend from £70m to under £28m; while P&G’s Bernard Balderston considered that, in some cases, TV is “no longer the medium of choice”.

To a degree, this was ritual posturing, of the sort that happens at any TV conference. None were saying they could do without television; and indeed the diversity of ‘alternative’ media strategies being touted as a solution to the complexities of the multichannel, PVR world rather underlined the point. Perhaps the most illustrative was the case study offered by Andrew Brown, senior vice-president international marketing at United International Pictures, which convincingly demonstrated how a big-spending film distributor had become less and less dependent on television advertising and more and more hooked on the improving technology associated with the internet. Elsewhere, Adidas showed how branded content could help get round the growing PVR problem. Levi’s alone seems convinced that increased commitment to TV advertising will produce results.

But advertising and media buying agencies cannot rely on the likes of Levi’s. Just as television may cease to be the medium of choice, so they may cease to be the mediators of choice unless they reinvent themselves. Hence, presumably, the logic of Industry@Saatchi: an attempt to show the senior echelons of business management that, far from being about yesterday’s creativity, they can provide tomorrow’s strategic solutions, more creatively (and less expensively) than management consultants.

And Beattie McGuinness Bungay? The cynical may discount some of Trevor Beattie’s “new frontiers” manifesto against what seems to have been increasingly rocky circumstances at the advertising agency he chaired, TBWA UK. But no one need dispute his observation that traditional advertising agencies are too weighed down by their baggage to adapt successfully to a changed business environment. Now is certainly the time to experiment with alternative marketing services models, if such things are ever to take root.

After 18 years, George Pitcher is taking his leave as a regular Marketing Week columnist. Many thanks for your commitment to the magazine, George.

Stuart Smith, Editor

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