Negative attitudes and low penetration all contribute to making Northern
Europe an elusive market. David Reed finds that the introduction of
per-spot ratings will bring changes
It is common in the UK to say that TV commercials are often better than
the programmes. Scandinavians take a different view. In a survey into
attitudes to advertising carried out in Sweden by Delfi Marketing
Services, two-thirds of consumers had a positive attitude to press ads,
but only 20 per cent were positive about TV ads. This reflects a sharp
deterioration since 1991, when half of consumers were positive about TV.
Part of the problem is that commercial television is still in its
infancy, having only been launched in 1988. The press also retains a
strong hold on consumers’ interests. Per Bystedt, president of TV3
Broadcasting Group, adds that the press has done an effective job at
promoting itself. ‘Its share of adspend is very high and it has been
good at lobbying and promoting the medium,’ he says.
Criticising print media owners for using selective figures, however, he
notes that newspapers’ share of total adspend is disproportionately
high, given sales figures that have been in decline for ten years. But
he also believes TV contractors have failed to make their case
effectively. ‘In Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the potential is in taking
money from the press. What easily happens when the market is growing
rapidly, is that everyone tries to get money from each other. When that
growth stops, they look at their share and try to destroy the
competition,’ he says.
That expansion in Swedish TV spend was dramatic, although from a low
base - up 80 per cent in 1993 and 40 per cent in 1994. If there is a
hesitancy among advertisers now, it is because of what Bystedt calls a
‘hangover’. He adds that ‘TV stations have also become a little
complacent - if the fax is broken, for example, you don’t get any
It is a point echoed by Johan Gernandt, general manager of Observer Grey
in Sweden. Of the country’s national terrestrial commercial channel,
TV4, he says: ‘It is a seller’s market. It opens sales one month in
advance, so you have to struggle to get the best space by hanging on the
phone. If you’re lucky, you might be among the first five or ten
Across Scandinavia, broadcast media owners are realising that, unless
they raise their game, they risk losing both advertising revenue and
This has led to Sweden’s TV4 investing heavily in its programmes, while
Norway’s TV2, which has a 30 per cent share, is under pressure to reduce
Rigid schedules and spot structures have much to answer for. Terrestrial
commercial TV in Scandinavia has historically sold ads in ten-minute
blocks between programmes. The satellite channels follow a pattern of
three- or four-minute programme breaks.
TV3 has just shortened its breaks and is now, according to Bystedt,
‘treating all breaks like babies. We try to put breaks where they are
most effective, instead of having stubborn patterns.’ This is not purely
out of self interest in the face of wary advertisers.
At the moment, channels are rated by viewers. From 1997, they will go to
per-minute and per-spot ratings. This will expose any weaknesses in
schedules and share of audiences. For TV4, in particular, it could be
very damaging, with the result that its ratecard should soften
In Norway, Helle Thorkildsen, media director of Carat Norge, says that
this system is already in place. ‘We pay for the people watching
commercials, so even if there is a drop in ratings during the break, we
don’t pay,’ she says. Prices, though, are still high, with media owners
trying to push them up still further.
But with TV viewing at saturation point at three hours per day, a
slowing in income growth is inevitable. In 1990, Carat estimates that TV
took 2 per cent of all adspend. While this has risen to 18 per cent, it
is predicted to grow only to 21 per cent in 1998. The terrestrial
commercial channels, TV2 and TVNorge, should get a boost as a result of
increased reach. Limited to around 65 per cent of households, a switch
of satellite means that, by the end of 1997, penetration will have risen
to 75 per cent.
Bystedt also expects TV3 to gain from growing reach. ‘Looking at
Germany, it took massive penetration for satellite channels to attract
national campaigns,’ he says. For this to happen, domestic advertisers
will also have to rethink their advertising strategies.
The way Norwegian clients plan their campaigns needs to become more
aligned with that of international brands. ‘National advertisers tend to
think of campaigns. They buy 14 days at high frequency, then it will be
six months before they return. International advertisers think more
continuously at lower gross rating points,’ Thorkildsen says.
In Scandinavia generally, Gernandt agrees that ‘it is easier to take
international clients on to TV’. For multinational brands like Pantene
shampoo, Fairy Liquid (known in Sweden as Yes), Mars or Citroen, TV is
part of how they build equity, whatever the country. Scandinavian
advertisers, such as Norwegian Dairy Time or SAS, are still learning
what television can contribute to their awareness and positioning. As
for consumers, they still have a long way to go before they learn to
love TV ads.