Channel 4 TV Planning Awards 2005: A tale of two awards shows

Has TV planning kept pace with the changing business environment during the past two years? John Billett casts an eye over the entries to the 2004 and 2005 Channel 4 TV Planning Awards.

2004

Two features not seen previously, at least in any substantial or systematic manner, dominated the entries for the 2004 awards - variety and insight.

Case studies describing traditional spot placement with rating points, reach and frequency targets deployed over time were in the minority. The use of programme sponsorship as a provable, return-on-investment commercial-communication vehicle has become an established TV option. The evidence suggests it is better value than spots. Perhaps the TV contractors have failed to appreciate the worth of what they were selling.

Several case studies identified not only the consumer but also the trade audience as an important ingredient in TV planning. Consideration of the programme environment, specific programme selection, position in break and how to achieve standout and avoid clutter were regular features in the entries. Any suggestion that TV has become a commodity is positively rejected by the entries.

It was a delight to see the innovation and investment being made in original, solid research and analysis being deployed to get a real understanding of the changing consumer. Many entrants had gone out of their way to undertake target-group research and create market-category information that got the agency closer to the clients' needs, and their solutions closer to media exposure reality - a most encouraging development.

Inevitably, the judges had to read many unconvincing attempts to package limp group discussions as unique definitive and proprietary agency insight.

Regrettably, we had to wade through the mud of "TGI cross-tabs of lifestyle statements with media exposure" written up as a breakthrough in understanding, but based on inadequate samples. Insight has become a real point of difference between the media agencies.

Encouragingly, many of the entries demonstrated the ability of TV to create the desired effect at advertising weights well below what would conventionally be considered the minimum threshold. Great ideas, well planned, can grab the consumer and effect change at the one-OTS level.

Agencies seemed more willing to embrace the return-on-investment agenda, but there was very little evidence of planners really grasping the emerging agenda that TV on its own may not be as successful as TV planned in an integrated way. Hardly any entries referred to the interface of TV advertising with direct-response campaigns off screen, and not one addressed the contribution of in-store activity and promotions.

In a TV planning awards, it's right to concentrate on TV but unrealistic and not credible to ascribe the overall success of a campaign to TV alone.

Integrated thinking may have been the 2004 vogue but there was little evidence of it in the 2004 entries.

2005

The historical success and growth of TV commercial communications have been achieved by range and variety. From one-offs to sustained campaigns, it is diversity that has brought success. Television has delivered different marketing objectives - from short-term promotions to long term. Every business type - from low- to high-ticket items and from disposable to capital items - has delivered on television, as have campaigns targeting different groups - from upscale males to the heavy-viewing family.

Few of the 2005 awards entries reflected this diversity. There is evidence of a lot of hard work. The imagination and endeavour showed by making small budgets go a long way was compelling and instructive. The entries were, in the main, prepared with great care and attention. Many provided compelling evidence of clear objectives, rigorous analysis, innovative planning and validated results.

Yet the entries to the 2005 awards were dominated by activity that could in no way be described as a "campaign". Instead, the judges saw a plethora of one-off applications; individual spectaculars; events and media activity with the sole objective of attracting media attention and extra column inches. The process by which objectives, strategies and plans are developed seems to have got lost in the clamour of pragmatic immediate action.

It may be something to do with the very nature of awards these days but every single entry revolved around short-term commercial communication and outcomes in the current year.

The business environment in 2005 was undoubtably competitive and often required immediate effects. The pressure for measured results increased alongside the ever-shortening employment cycle of brand defenders.

But the judges read little about plans for building brand advantage over the longer term or about a plan helping sustain a brand premium. The traditional values of reach and frequency, and validating and optimising campaign-weight may have their roots in calmer media times, but they are still buttresses of influencing consumer behaviour. They cannot be discarded just because "we liked this idea".

An encouraging feature of the 2005 entries, however, was the growing participation of the media owner in the planning process, which opens up insight and opportunities for innovative applications.

If the strength of television as an effective commercial communications medium is to be sustained, its value in developing profitable brands over years has to be re-asserted. Now is the time for planners to get closer to marketers' wide range of business needs and deliver more of what the TV medium continues to make available.

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