Sometimes, I think I was born to be a telly addict. TV has played a big role in my life from birth. I was born at the end of 1953, shortly after the televised coronation had finally pushed my parents into splashing out on a telly.
So, when commercial TV arrived in 1955, I was the perfect age to soak up every magical, fuzzy image. I still buy Murray Mints for long journeys, because I just know they are too good to hurry. The jingle for Pepsodent, "You'll wonder where the yellow went", still resonates in my brain, having outlived the brand itself. Few advertisers can now afford to buy the quantities of commercial impacts that, in the 50s and 60s, created the iconic brands that live on today: Persil, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Kit Kat, Whiskas. But their early investment must have paid back thousands of times over.
There was a battle with my parents at first over commercial TV. Just like they made me read the Look and Learn comic rather than Bunty, they wanted me to watch Blue Peter when I knew that Magpie was cooler. But, like everyone else, they eventually embraced ITV. They were seduced by Hughie Green, Michael Miles and their glamorous game shows. They were excited by Brucie at the London Palladium. They fell in love with the wit and warmth of Coronation Street. I haven't been able to be a regular Corrie viewer for ages, but I couldn't resist watching our greatest living thespian, Sir Ian McKellen, do his stint as Mel Hutchwright.
As I was growing up, commercial TV, both the programmes and the ads, gave huge enjoyment, though I think my mum got sick of her cooking being compared with that of Oxo's Katie. Which was funnier, Rising Damp or the Smash commercials?
At the end of the 70s, I started work at ATV, selling commercial airtime to hardnut buyers such as Jim Marshall, Mark Cranmer, Christine Walker, David Pattison and Jonathan Durden. I even occasionally got to ring through the daily sales figures to the legendary Sir Lew Grade. ITV was about to begin its astonishing metamorphosis into a genuinely mass medium, with greater investment into ambitious and high-quality shows: Brideshead Revisited, The South Bank Show, Inspector Morse, Cracker, Prime Suspect, Cold Feet, Hillsborough and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Advertisers responded with equally magnificent ads.
I also sold Channel 4 alongside ITV, in our regions, from its launch in 1982, and the combination of an increasingly aspirational ITV and the innovative Channel 4 brought whole new markets into TV advertising. It's hard to believe that cars, telecoms and finance were once insignificant advertisers on TV, but epic commercials, such as the Fiat Strada "Barber of Seville" ad and the Maureen Lipman Beattie series, initiated an intense love affair that's still going strong.
In 1992, as Channel 4 prepared to sell its own airtime, I realised the only way I could impartially represent both it and ITV, and indeed the growing number of other brilliant commercial TV channels, was to join a media agency myself. Only by seeing what it did for my clients' businesses did I discover just how powerful TV advertising is as a marketing tool.
And, for the past 13 years, I've had a ball helping my clients get the best out of ITV and its rivals, either through its role as the centre of gravity in a multimedia campaign, or adding excitement to a largely non-broadcast strategy with the use of blipverts, sponsorship, interactive ads and, increasingly, branded content and channels. I've enjoyed proving what I suspected all those years ago; that TV gives all other forms of response advertising a giant dose of Viagra.
Today, marketers invest less in building brands before they expect a return. I acknowledge the importance of CRM. A statement insert may well be the most efficient and rational way to talk to your own customers, just as my husband leaves me efficient and rational messages on the kitchen table or the mobile. But our relationship would wither away without hugs, kisses and, occasionally, some gigantic flowers. Treating your existing customers to a motivating TV campaign, ads or sponsorship is like a bunch of red roses.
ITV can look back with pride on the past 50 years, and advertisers should also congratulate themselves for supporting such successful commercially funded public service TV. But this is a watershed time for ITV. As Ofcom loosens the regulatory shackles and shareholders hold out their hands for the full dividend of consolidation, the signals that ITV gets from advertisers have never been as important.
- Tess Alps is the chairman of PHD Group UK.