Claire Beale on Advertising
Adland is discovering new outlets - and TV is getting its comeuppance
Monday 30 October 2006
Check out these figures: 46,212 commercials, £4bn in ad revenue and 10 million adults watching for 1,800 hours a year. On most sensible measures, the television genre is thriving.
ITV might be (temporarily?) buggered but the medium itself is doing nicely. Last week BBC3's screening of Dr Who spin-off Torchwood broke all viewing records for drama on satellite channels, taking a 12.7 per cent share of all viewing. TV's rich in choice - it's more interactive than ever. You can watch on the web, or on your phone. And have you seen the new Sony Bravia ad? TV advertising can make your spine tingle.
Yet speak to your average adland cynic (and there are plenty of them) and you'd think TV was history, crippled by poor content, disaffected advertisers, and ad agencies rushing to get digital.
So where's it all gone wrong?
ITV is a big part of the answer: years of arrogant, aggressive selling, rampant inflation, lacklustre programming, a lack of innovation. Many of these issues are being ironed out - there are signs of life in the schedule, airtime's (relatively) cheap.
Then, wouldn't you know it, the ITV sales boys were at it again last week, slagging off Channel 4 during their autumn tour of media agencies. Apparently they told buyers that Channel 4 is a "one-show channel" dominated by downmarket Deal Or No Deal. What was probably an off-the-cuff remark got interpreted as a flash of the old ITV arrogance: TV's still the bastard medium it always was. Time for another TV kicking, then.
The extent to which the ad industry - specifically, the media industry - has fallen out of love with television is really quite staggering. Here are some facts the TV industry would probably rather you didn't see: less than half of media agency execs think TV is the home of great brand advertising; only a quarter think it's accountable and hardly any think it is effective.
Now it strikes me that if your average TV buyer knows they're being polled by the broadcasters, they'll turn the volume up on their negativity. So I don't suppose their views are really as bleak as this. But the research does underline the extent of the problem. After years of squeezing the ad industry by the balls, TV is getting its comeuppance: more responsive, cost-efficient advertising such as direct marketing and new media are in the ascendant. According to this month's IPA Bellwether report, ad budgets for traditional media have been revised down for the eighth consecutive quarter, though the rate of decline is slowing. More than 11 per cent of advertisers now spend more than a sixth of their budgets on the internet; direct marketing shows the largest gain for 18 months. Meanwhile among traditional media, TV seems to bear the brunt. And boy, is adland relishing its revenge.
Mind you, it's like Orson Welles said: "I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts." So we still watch it, media agencies still win business on their ability to buy it, and creatives would rather make a TV commercial than a press ad.
Television is still the most powerful hearts-and-minds advertising medium. When was the last time a website made your spine tingle? It does not serve clients or the media industry at large to trample such a vital advertising tool into the ground.
So how can the TV industry and its marketing body, Thinkbox, make adland love it again?
That was the question posed to some of the ad industry's finest young brains at this year's Fast Forward - a brilliant training programme run by the industry charity Nabs (www.nabs.org.uk to donate online).
Ten teams of young talent were set a brief by this year's mock client, Thinkbox: to reengage the ad industry in the television medium. The brief from hell? Given the state of the ad industry's disaffection with television right now, perhaps it was. But all the teams did a fine job of tackling the issue and last week the winning pitch was unveiled.
The top team, called Raw, came up with some stunning solutions for the Thinkbox problem, including branded short films, using the medium to promote the medium (hey - you'd think that was a no-brainer, but I can't think of a broadcaster that's really invested airtime in selling airtime), a new posse of advisers to forge better relationships with agencies, and a team to position Thinkbox as the thought-leader on consumer insights and innovation.
One of the best suggestions was to run a TV ad montaging all the classic TV advertising greats. Can you imagine a centre break medley of John Webster's work? Or BBH's Levis collection, or Lowe's Stella oeuvre?
So the gauntlet is now down for Thinkbox's brilliant Tess Alps and her team to put some of the inspired ideas into action. Then perhaps adland will fall in love with television all over again.
* IT SPEAKS VOLUMES that Shaun McIlrath should be the first hiring made by the new Hurrell and Dawson agency. First, of course, it says that H&D well knows that the ad industry's breath has been bated in anticipation of the agency's first appointment. And it could hardly go for some old dyed-in-the-wool creative giant who thinks Second Life is a pension plan and direct marketing is home for those creatives who don't make it above-the-line.
So McIlrath answers all the critics ready to shout phooey to H&D's promise of building an agency for the future, stripped of the crippling divisional conventions that hamper many of its rivals.
McIlrath ticks all the right boxes. He's a former FCA! Creative director and founder of Heresy, the digital agency that was backed by HHCL at the turn of the century, he has most recently been working as a creative director at VCCP.
As H&D's first recruit, McIlrath must shoulder much responsibility for polishing the start-up's new approach - both Hurrell and Dawson themselves have pretty traditional creative agency pedigrees.
But is McIlrath good enough to be the lead creative at London's hottest, hungriest new agency? Um, probably not on his own. H&D actually does need a creative great if it's to quickly build some wow creative credentials. The point is that the agency needs strong creative leadership from across the spectrum of digital, DM and traditional media. Right now it's almost impossible to get that in a single creative person. But in building a multi-disciplined creative team, the new agency must ensure there's no hierarchy. Getting McIlrath in first should help create a department of equals, where no one discipline dominates the creative approach.
H&D's next challenge: to find a media strategist. The good ones are even rarer than discipline-neutral creatives.
Claire Beale is editor of Campaign, firstname.lastname@example.org
BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW
Adland doesn't do tits. Not really. The odd curve of breast glimpsed in a shower gel commercial, perhaps. It's all we're allowed. After all, TV viewers have been known to complain about suggestive vegetables in supermarket ads; can you imagine what a full frontal tit-shot would do for the nation's collective blood-pressure.
So Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, its staff and everyone involved in the new Breakthrough Breast Cancer awareness campaign deserve real respect for handling what is such a (ridiculously) taboo subject in such a sensitive and suitably celebratory way.
Ode to breasts is exactly that: a poem about why we should love our wobbly bits more. They might be too big, too small, "hang like two puppies in a sack", but everyone else loves them, so women should show their breasts some TLC (touch, look, check). And, yes, there are breasts - bare and bold, and plenty of them. Some even belong to Y&R staffers.
This is a beautifully simple ad, whose real power lies in its unflinching camerawork and the sheer bravery of those ordinary women who have stripped off in support of such a good cause. You won't see it on TV. But it's running in cinemas this month - Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you like the ad, donate to the cause (www.breakthrough.org.uk).
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