A rallying call to “sell television” came from advertisers and commercial TV players alike, at Marketing Week’s TV 2002 conference held in Prague last week.
Backing came for a television advertising bureau (TAB) to market the medium to advertisers in the same way that radio is supported by the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB).
The debate was triggered by Nestlé Rowntree marketing director Andrew Harrison, who warned delegates that the commercial TV industry was facing “considerable structural change”, as advertisers sought more cost-effective ways of reaching consumers.
He called on the TV industry to form a partnership with advertisers saying: “First you’ve got to sell TV again to new generations of people, to marketers like me who are unconvinced by TV’s cost (and excited by multi-media opportunities), to today’s brand managers whose intuitive default is to Web marketing or sponsorship and to tomorrow’s graduates for whom interactivity, PlayStation 2 or texting define their expectations and because this is an industry agenda, you need to sell it as an industry.”
Harrison produced AC Nielsen/ MMS figures for 2001 which showed a 3.7 per cent drop in TV revenues with 59 of the top 100 advertisers cutting their spend on the medium, compared with a ten per cent rise in TV spend in 1999 and 29 advertisers reducing their TV budget.
Harrison warned against “complaining” about a “resurgent” BBC as “competition is a fact of life” and against thinking that the downturn was simply a “cyclical one-off”. A failure to sell TV as an industry, he said, would result in the medium being “diminished”.
To illustrate the effect that TV inflation has had on the market, he referred to the launch of Yorkie in 1978, which was supported by TV – 6,000 ratings in 12 months at a cost of &£1m. Since then he claims the cost of 6,000 ratings has increased six times although the price of a Yorkie bar is only three times more expensive, and despite the fact that each rating today would be 13 per cent as effective. To launch Yorkie in an equivalent way today, Harrison claims, would cost &£36m.
Other factors influencing the long-term structure of the TV industry, he said, include client consolidation and brand rationalisation with fewer brands promoted on TV and the emergence of supermarkets as “the new media”. He called for the industry to address inconsistent and last-minute scheduling; a lack of strong programming; inflexible advanced booking deadlines; lack of detailed data; and the penalisation of advertisers through excessive inflation.
Speaking on a panel debating growth strategies for TV advertising, Angus McIntosh, European media manager for Masterfoods Europe and chair of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’ TV Action Group, also called for the industry to promote itself more efficiently – suggesting that it set up a body similar to RAB.
He said: “We want a strong commercial TV and for it to hold the BBC in check, but on the other hand we don’t want to see a return to spiralling inflation.”
Support for a TAB also came from ITV marketing and commercial director Jim Hytner and Mark Howe, managing director of Interactive Digital Sales, agreed that TV generally needed to be “reinvigorated”.
Granada Enterprises chief executive Graham Duff also said that he was “personally” not against the creation of such as body.
All three – Hytner, Howe and Duff – were concerned that key salespeople from Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky had decided not to attend the TV conference to discuss issues facing the industry.
In recent years ITV1 has come under fire from advertisers at the conference over trading issues and its declining share of TV viewing. But Hytner skillfully defused any criticism by admitting that ITV1 as brand leader was under “the most fierce competitive pressure” and needed to reorganise and try harder with viewers, agencies and advertisers alike.
He said the task is to restore “magic” in the brand by taking “ITV1 from a ‘mass bland brand’ to a brand with a set of recognisable values” – including a shared understanding with viewers, more spontaneity and wit. ITV1 is to be relaunched in the autumn with “a cleaner, fresher, more dynamic look” as the “hero brand” overcoming issues of regionality.
Hytner has axed the number of show promotion messages from 27 to ten a week and introduced an on-screen ident to flag up key ITV1 programmes. He also said that he was lobbying ITV shareholders for an increase in the marketing budget, so he could spend more on off-air advertising in order to attract light ITV viewers.
Backing Hytner’s call for more cash, Paul Philpott, Toyota marketing director, says: “He had the confidence and willingness to admit mistakes.”
Previous conferences have contained much hype about interactivity, but little concrete evidence of any benefits or take-up. James Wildman of IDS said: “While interactive advertising is still in its infancy we believe the test phase is over. In the past few months the take-up of interactive advertising has doubled.”
There were 50 interactive advertising campaigns for October 2001 to March 2002, compared with 15 for the period April to September 2001. One interactive advertising campaign designed to distribute 4,000 lipstick samples for Coty Rimmel on Trouble and Living delivered a response rate of 3.2 per cent.
But Gary Austin, senior associate director of BMRB International, said: “Despite early hype, interactive advertising has yet to prove itself.” He said that only 12 per cent of digital viewers have ever interacted with an ad and, of those that did interact, half did so out of pure curiosity.
“There’s a lot of novelty at the moment, people are intrigued to see what you get,” he concluded.
The TV industry, which is facing a number of issues over the next year – a single ITV, the future of ITV Digital, declining TV revenue, more BBC channels, the increase in interactive advertising and the Communications Bill – will have a mountain to climb in satisfying advertisers’ needs.