Advertisers panick as viewers opt out of ads

Despite the state-of-the-art offices and all the smart creative brains in advertising, the basic approach to advertising hasn't changed for 50 - yes 50 - years. It hasn't changed because it has continued to be a successful industry that is paid high fees to drive big brands onwards and upwards. And if it ain't broke... But change is most definitely coming and the agencies that don't change are going to be left out in the cold.

Despite the state-of-the-art offices and all the smart creative brains in advertising, the basic approach to advertising hasn't changed for 50 - yes 50 - years. It hasn't changed because it has continued to be a successful industry that is paid high fees to drive big brands onwards and upwards. And if it ain't broke... But change is most definitely coming and the agencies that don't change are going to be left out in the cold.

Technology is driving consumers to new platforms and new media channels, and the competition for eyeballs is going to get so intense that new ways of applying brand-building ideas will be essential. Agencies have been aware of the need for change for some time, but aside from gearing up to deal with their client's e-commerce needs, agencies still operate along old lines with all the big guns in the agency applying themselves to developing conventional interruptive advertising. It's still a world where the 30-second commercial and the double-page spread are kings.

What's really got them talking in The Ivy is the development of set-top boxes by TiVo and Replay, which not only allow viewers to compile their own special-interest programming but also to edit out the advertising. That means the audiences will be much smaller per programme, making a nonsense of hugely expensive production. What's the point of spending £1.5m on a British Airways ad that only a few thousand will watch? Oh, and if you give consumers the choice then they will choose not to watch the ads; in home trials, 88 per cent zapped the commercials.

If the ad breaks can be edited out of the programmes, then the programmes themselves will need to contain the ads or, more likely, the brands, so that they cannot be ignored.

The way forward is for agencies to apply their creativity to develop ideas that do not depend upon piggy backing other forms of entertainment. In short, the ideas will need to be entertaining in their own right. It will almost certainly lead to a return to the advertisers becoming programme-makers and a new generation of soap operas.

TBWA has already responded to this challenge by pioneering viral marketing on the internet for Sony PlayStation. We have also helped to launch a new Nissan sedan in the United States by sending 12 students on a coast-to-coast drive with digital camcorders linked to the web. In June, we helped Nike hijack every country's TV coverage of Euro 2000 by painting an image of Edgar Davids on the side of the tallest building in Amsterdam.

These are examples of the new kind of ideas clients will be demanding of their agencies. The agencies that can adapt to this changing world will continue to call the shots in the creative marketplace.

 

Paul Bainsfair is chief executive of the advertising agency TBWA

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