Looking beyond the 30 seconds of fame

When brand owners announce a radical overhaul of their marketing communications strategy, scepticism of their proclaimed motives is usually no bad thing.

Thus, the advertising freeze implemented by Heinz has little to do with a ‘scientific’ attempt to explore the limits of brand-building via television; and much more with the fattening up of its European business prior to a partial auction.

Similarly, Heineken’s bold declaration last week that it is pulling out of TV advertising because its effectiveness is no longer guaranteed should not be taken at face value. What Heineken managing director Rob Marijnen says about TV ads no longer standing out because of clutter is justified, up to a point. There are plenty, however, prepared to point the finger elsewhere. They say Heineken’s poor sales performance is not a matter of communications strategy; rather it is because the brand has failed to produce an inspiring creative idea that could bear comparison with the likes of Stella and John Smith’s. Therefore, ploughing the &£6.5m TV budget into alternative media – sport and music sponsorship, plus a greatly enhanced poster spend – will do little for the premium lager brand’s potency. That, of course, is a matter for conjecture, though Heineken will make an interesting case study.

Equally controversial, though for different reasons, has been Audi’s reaction to the encroaching multimedia world. Audi has done nothing so foolish as to announce its disillusionment with the 30-second TV spot, which it will continue to support with the majority of a &£20m advertising budget. But it has taken out an innovative insurance policy on the future just the same. In a word, this is the Audi Channel, the first example of a new breed of Ofcom-regulated TV licences that effectively enable brands to become media owners. In Audi’s case, the channel will be able to attract up to 7.5 million viewers on the Sky digital platform. Freeview and cable are expected to follow.

To be sure, this is a restricted opportunity. Audi will not be allowed to fund the channel with advertising, nor sponsor anything other than its own models. Nor will it be allowed to directly sell any cars. Restrictions that have led industry observers to question the value of Audi’s enterprise. After all, the running costs could amount to &£2m a year, with no ascertainable profit in sight. Typical is the reaction of Tim Brady, managing director of Zenith Alliance: ‘The problem is how much it costs, particularly in the long term, how many people are going to truly see it and how it will affect them.’

Fair enough, so far as the criticism goes. But Audi risks little in the short term by adding the advertiser-funded channel to its marketing programme. The car marque can already congratulate itself on achieving profitability through advancing its market share (not something you can say about many car marques right now). What it lacks, by contrast with BMW or Mercedes, is depth of brand personality; it is this ‘lifestyle’ issue that Audi hopes to address by a more subtle but pervasive diffusion of its image.

In the meantime, we have seen a glimpse of the world after the 30-second spot. No doubt other insights will soon be given by the likes of Nike and Sony.

Stuart Smith, Editor

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