In spite of its proven role in building the fortunes of the nation's favourite and most famous brands, television always seems to attract a greater share of criticism from the broad marketing community than any other medium. Historically, that seemed like a quality problem in as much as the level of criticism was at least matched by the level of the revenue inflation. Advertisers complained about inflation and then fuelled it.
In recent years, the price of TV airtime has deflated, the entry price dropped and the spectrum of uses multiplied. Perversely, price deflation has been "rewarded" by declining budgets and worryingly lower shares into the medium by many advertisers. TV ... the medium everyone hates to love ... in spite of its track record, its reach, its price and its applications.
The 2006 TV Planning Awards set out to celebrate those advertisers and reward those agencies that have most effectively capitalised on the commercial TV market. As such, these awards are neither about effectiveness, nor innovation alone. They are just about excellence in TV planning and buying. Of course, there are issues with definitions of excellence, and there will be debates about what is exceptional as opposed to routine, but that's just life. All we needed to judge the merits of one entry against another was the services of an experienced and balanced jury and some clear criteria.
Key to the success of this particular jury was that each member was the sole representative from different areas of the industry: client, media agency, media owner, creative agency, industry body and trade magazine. Laurence Green's gigantic planning brain and his pivotal involvement in the IPA Effectiveness Awards made him an excellent voice of the wider advertising community. Bob Wootton's experience, not only at ISBA, but before that as a media agency practitioner, provided us with rich insight on the advertiser's prevailing mood. Niall McKinney's eclectic experience (Procter & Gamble to lastminute.com via Loaded and Nuts) provided us with a fresh, yet pragmatic, perspective. Mike Parker's passion for TV and for the importance of these awards for TV as a whole was self-evident. Finally, Claire Beale's instinctive ability to spot fact from fiction proved invaluable. This was a no bullshit bunch.
This year, responding to feedback from previous entrants and judges, entries were split into "new to TV" and "ongoing users of TV", and the entrants were asked three simple questions. What were the insights that led to TV being used? What insights drove the strategy? And how did the execution of the strategy add value?
There were 40 entries, of which three- quarters were for ongoing TV advertisers. The entries were drawn from a wide range of categories, and encouragingly, all the top ten media agencies (and several beyond the top ten) were represented.
We judged the smaller category of "new to TV" first. Once we had established that NS&I qualified as a "new to TV" advertiser (it had been off air for six years or more), the judges unanimously agreed that this entry was a very well-argued case for the unrivalled ability of TV to drive attitude and action simultaneously. Re-awakening interest in National Savings demanded a hard-hitting message and a hard-hitting media approach. That is not to say that this was a "pile it high" solution. Airtime was upweighted on Sundays, and the other media were carefully timed to capitalise on the awareness gains across the early part of the week, where sales conversions were highest.
The results were very powerful. Clearly this was not solely down to the media strategy, but it is clear that the TV planning and buying made the most of the opportunity reminding us all that direct response/DM activity will diminish in effectiveness without investment in more public media solutions. Indeed, TV for NS&I proved itself as an ally to online marketing, with online sales increasing by 173 per cent.
If NS&I reminded us of the traditional benefits of TV combined with its newer application as online sales driver, other entries in this category highlighted the diversity of opportunity for marketers. Novogen, planned by PHD, eschewed safer uses of a smaller budget and created a sympathetic association with Lorraine Kelly and GMTV for £100,000. This accelerated its sales and deepened its distribution and reminded the judges of the effect TV can have at a trade level. Skechers, through Mediaedge:cia, proved spot buying that honed in on a core audience, could give magazine and cinema planning a run for their money.
None of the entries blew our socks off with their imagination or level of "innovation", but we weren't necessarily looking for that. What we wanted were examples of how TV can be used to bring brands to TV for the first time ever or back after a long absence. That's what we got.
So to the "ongoing" category. The judges split into three groups of two to generate a shortlist. Ten entries made the shortlist and again shone a light on the spectrum of opportunity afforded by TV today. The winner was Weetabix, and given it is a Walker Media client, Laurence Green offered to explain what gave the entry its edge: "Judging this year's TV Planning Awards was hard. How to compare new interactive initiatives with old-fashioned, unashamedly mass marketing? Small budgets with big? Surgical strikes versus 'shock and awe'? How, and indeed whether, to distinguish the contributions made by product, creative and media?
"Then we read the Weetabix paper, and our decision was made easy for us. Clear, concise and to the point, it's a compelling case study in its own right and a contribution to industry best practice too, since beneath the approach and results sits an implicit criticism of the way too many of us plan and buy media in 2007.
"Strategy wedded to commercial intent? Check. Unwaveringly executed? Check. Results that demonstrate tangible added value? Check also. This was a classic case of strategy as the art of sacrifice. The client was encouraged to trade days on air (the crack cocaine of the lazy planner) for proper cut-through across fewer days. The team resisted the gravitational pull of the calendar in favour of proper commercial punch, and the results speak for themselves.
"In these topsy-turvy and occasionally hysterical media times, the currency of ideas has begun to look a little over-inflated and campaign engineering curiously undervalued. Too few of us are asking: what does effective weight look like in this newly fragmented TV landscape? Walker and Weetabix know the answer."
Returning to my thoughts as chairman, the jury also decided to award a few commendations in this category, a reflection of the generally high standard of submissions. Carlsberg hit the football World Cup head- on. Great creative work and a comprehensive application of the medium ... if I was working for a competitor brand, I would have been annoyed!
Nintendo sold out of Wiis ... but still planned and bought a major TV campaign ... or was it the other way around? We debated this, but concluded two things: first, TV more than any other medium would be able to demonstrate the amazing technology and, second, airtime buying could reach the wide range of target groups with relevant executions.
And last, but not least, Sony BMG spotted the opportunity to reawaken interest in Nina Simone by advertising her album in the same break as the Muller ads to which she had contributed the soundtrack. A "win win" for the power of TV advertising!
The intensity of the discussion between the judges and the issues that were raised were testament to the need for the TV industry to encourage and reward best practice TV planning and buying.
Do you know what? I think there's a future in TV advertising.
Claire Beale - editor, Campaign
Laurence Green - managing partner, Fallon
Niall McKinney - group marketing director, lastminute.com
Bob Wootton - director of advertising and media affairs, ISBA
Mike Parker - head of strategic sales, Channel 4
Phil Georgiadis - partner, Walker Media, and the chairman of the judges.