A view from Sue Unerman

Don't exploit the mesh if you should be exploiting the stack

If you haven't spent half an hour in the company of the brilliant and charming controller of commercial digital products at ITV, Jon Block, then...

He’s got a list of user needs from the second screen while watching TV that is well worth contemplating.

How we exploit the second screen while the TV is on is surely now the essence of TV planning. It is a question that should come as a delight to those realists among media agencies who have always known that most people do not spend their time watching the TV glued to the screen in adulation and admiration.  To those of us who have long known that the way in which most creative work is judged in a meeting (in a darkened room, with everyone focusing on the screen and in isolation from any other distractions, let alone other ad) is completely artificial. Thinkbox has plenty of analysis of how the second screen turns TV into point of sale, and certainly point of more information gathering. TV advertising, however, is still too often being conceived and produced as if it were being watched in the way that was the norm in 1964 – ie. everyone clustered round and paying good attention.

As MediaCom’s heads of planning, Chris Binns and Steve Gladdis, pointed out at our client conference last month, redefining the commercial application of TV advertising and sponsorship is crucial to success, and, the deeper the partnership and the more we exploit the whole system as it works together, the better.

Chris rightly points out that we need to be clear whether we are trying to exploit meshing or stacking and that it is vital that we don’t confuse them. (Believe me, you don’t want to mesh when you should stack!)

Then success depends on the incentives to interact, the barriers to entry and the clarity of the calls to action. There really is no room for subtlety in this, not if we want to exploit it at scale.

So back to Jon Block’s user needs: is it sharing, control and discovery, curiosity, enhancing, reward, contributing or closeness that we want to exploit?

Last week, I added an FMCG item to my online grocery basket then and there because the ad took my fancy. That is, however, the first time I have done this all year. I, and millions like me, now watch TV with a second screen in my hand. There will be a limit to how many immediate calls to action that we’ll respond to, but hardly anyone is asking us for an immediate action clearly, specifically and persuasively yet. 

We have a long list of established rules of thumb for how TV works. Now that TV is open to so many connections, those heuristics may well stand in our way if we’re not rethinking how the whole communication system works.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom