TV or not TV: Should challenger brands resist the lure of TV advertising?

Breaking a brand into the mainstream is a big challenge. David Benady asks whether it is possible for challenger brands to enter the public consciousness and hit the big time without investing in TV advertising.

TV or not TV: Should challenger brands resist the lure of TV advertising?

Mainstream brands built without the aid of TV advertising abound these days. One need look no further than online brands Google, Facebook and LinkedIn or grocery names Innocent, Green & Black's and Ben & Jerry's.

Nonetheless, TV continues to hold a powerful attraction for marketers, and more than one marketing career has been built upon a beautifully executed 60-second spot.

Yet many brands, whether retailers, packaged goods or technology products, can still achieve a great deal solely through high-quality word of mouth, strong PR and alluring packaging without investing in TV.

Innocent Drinks demonstrated how a focus on product quality and distribution could build a brand to significant size without TV advertising – although, to boost scale, it eventually turned to it in 2005.

A host of brands has followed the distribution-led model. Oliver Rudgard, marketing director of £25m crisp brand Tyrrells, says, "We have never done advertising of any type".

Launched in 2002, the brand started by concentrating on distribution through farm shops and delicatessens, and exhibitions at country fairs.

"What we stumbled into was an interesting communication model which is about advocacy", he says.

"We are a brand that people talk about, not a brand that talks about itself. If you look at the state of society, people have become much more sceptical about large organisations, there's mistrust of them, so people are very careful about how they filter messages."

People's reliance on personal networks as a source of information is growing, according to Rudgard.

Tyrrells now has 75% distribution, with a presence in the main supermarkets. Part of the appeal of a brand that is absent from tv screens is a sense of discovering something special. "What people buy into is a little piece of quirky Englishness, an eccentricity and sense of discovery", he adds.

No quick fix

"Our model is doable by anybody, although it requires a business to be of a certain scale", says Rudgard. "It is challenging if you are a larger organisation with big aspirations from day one and don't have the philosophy of nurturing the business over time."

Another mainstream brand that has achieved significant distribution through major retailers without TV advertising is Bulldog, the male toiletries and skincare brand.

Its founder, Simon Duffy, does not rule out using the medium, but says, "It is wrong to think of TV as the gatekeeper to reaching a decent size."

Nonetheless, he thinks TV can play an important part in an overall strategy. "It is not just about budgets", he says. "You need a great idea and to think about how TV can complement other things that you have going on."

While Duffy acknowledges the power of PR and editorial coverage in building the brand, he adds, "Conventional TV and print advertising can still be powerfully intoxicating in skincare. The biggest skincare companies continue to get horrendous PR for the horrific and unnecessary animal testing they commission every year.

"In spite of this, their big brands continue to be hugely successful through their celebrity-driven TV campaigns."

Nonetheless, Duffy claims that Bulldog's marketing, without TV, has helped it boost sales compared with rivals that use the medium.

He quotes IRI sales data for the male skincare market for the year to 3 December 2011, which shows that Bulldog's value sales grew 20.7%. Against this, L'Oreal's sales were down 4.4%, Nivea's slipped 0.1% and Gillette fell by 8.3%.

One size doesn't fit all

There is still a huge debate about the appropriateness of TV advertising for different types of brands. One view is summed up by Steve Stretton, creative partner and founding partner of integrated agency Archibald Ingall Stretton.

"For a lot of big brands that haven't got a really defined audience, TV is fine", he says. "Tesco's audience is everybody, so a broadcast strategy is right. For certain brands, TV is pointless - you know your audience, so you don't need to talk to everybody."

Tess Alps, head of commercial TV trade body Thinkbox, insists it is a misconception that the medium is necessarily expensive for advertisers. "You can get on TV for £15,000, you just have to tailor your expectations", she says.

With so many niche TV channels, it is now possible to reach very specific audiences, especially if brands target programmes rather than stations.

Strong creative work is vital to boost the effect of the spend. One cost-effective strategy is to choose the most relevant time of day to advertise and stick to that – promoting grocery products at breakfast time, for example.

Sponsorship is another approach to consider, as it can prove good value for money, provided the right programme is chosen. Alps says that last year, 821 brands that had never previously used the medium launched TV campaigns in the UK.

One ad agency specialising in helping small brands on to TV is TVLowCost. It has worked with brands such as Nestle's Rolo, which relaunched last year after a 24-year absence from screens, Primula cheese and Typhoo Tea.

The agency's chief executive, Andrew Mitchell, says the cheapest package it offers small brands is £160,000, with £100,000 of media, and another at £225,000. He says big savings can be made by dispensing with 30-second spots in favour of shorter executions.

Cost vs consistency

Even with media deflation - TV is as cheap in real terms as in 1986 due to increased viewing - television advertising can be too expensive for some brands, according to Bambos Neophytou, head of strategy at integrated agency Inferno.

The agency has worked with Kiss FM on its Father Kissmas promotion, where listeners register their names and, if read out on air, they can then ring in to win a prize. The number of entries rose from 30,000 in 2009 to 150,000 in 2011.

"If you stick to your guns, your brief is clear and the creative is right, consistency pays off", says Neophytou. He points to high-quality brands, such as Le Creuset, that avoid TV advertising. "When brands go on TV, they can lose some of their kudos – they feel like they are a bit corporate", he says.

TV viewing has increased in recent years with the switch to digital bringing hundreds of new channels. This supply boost has depressed the cost of advertising, making it more attractive to smaller brands.

Yet it is still relatively expensive and with the growth of online and increased scepticism about big corporations, small brands still think twice before creating TV campaigns.

Prezzybox: Yes To TV

The online gift retailer ran its first TV campaign in the run-up to Christmas 2010. After 10 years, the brand had exhausted online avenues for promotion such as search, pay per click, affiliate marketing and partnerships.

Starting with no knowledge of how to advertise on TV, the brand ran a 16-day campaign reaching 13m people with a media spend of £20,000 and a production budget of £10,000. Suppliers that had products featured in the ads also made contributions.

Working with production company PMA Digital, the brand developed the creative idea of products being wrapped then transported by crane to sit under a Christmas tree with lots of other gifts, accompanied by a "velvety" voiceover to give an upmarket feel, rather than coming across as cheap and cheerful.

For media planning and buying, Prezzybox worked with specialist Village Green.

Analysis of the results showed that 30 minutes after the ad aired, there was an increase in visitors to the site of up to 50%, an 8% rise in sales and 0.73% upturn in conversion rate. However, the company is ambivalent about whether it would advertise on TV again.

Prezzybox managing director Zak Edwards says, "TV advertising is very much a doubleedged sword. To become a bigger brand, you need to grow your awareness.

"TV advertising can open a lot of other doors for you. We got approached by venture capitalists, product suppliers and others.

"The downside is that it is very expensive and not trackable, so it is difficult to attribute what sales you get. It is also not worth doing a one-off campaign; you need to do a sustained campaign, which makes it even more expensive."

One direction: No to TV

One Direction, a boy band formed by five 'X Factor' contestants in 2010, launched a branding campaign last November in advance of the release of their debut album, Up All Night.

The band is hugely popular among young teenage girls, (one video has been viewed more than 46 million times on YouTube), so the launch eschewed TV ads in favour of an immersive online game, created by Simon Cowell's record label Syco and direct and digital agency Archibald Ingall Stretton (AIS).

The task for fans was to win back a missing laptop featuring exclusive content.

The aim was to create "one big frenzy" over five weeks leading up to the album's release, targeting the fan base in the UK and Europe.

"Thirteen-year-old girls don't sit and watch Coronation Street, their lives pretty much revolve around Twitter and Facebook, so everything we did was online", says Steve Stretton, founding partner of AIS.

At the launch, the band achieved 16 different worldwide trending topics on Twitter, four in one day. "Though the band was discovered on TV, to get to this audience you know where they are hanging out – online – and TV advertising is so expensive", adds Stretton.

Syco head of online planning Genevieve Ampaduh says, "[This is] one of the most active, committed and creative fan bases out there.

"Our fans deserve much more than a traditional marketing campaign. 'Save the 1 Day' puts the fans at the heart of the action, giving them deeper access to the boys and rewarding them for their commitment. Why shouldn't a marketing campaign be fun, exciting and memorable?"