Media: Behind the hype - ITV must inject substance into its 'fame' initiative

Agencies welcome the push to sell the medium but want hard data, Jeremy Lee says.

The launch of ITV's "Values of Fame" initiative is the latest in a long line of themes designed to re-engage advertisers with television.

Two years ago, ITV held a conference in London for clients and advertisers under the name "TV Matters". The focus was on on-air talent, with ITV's celebrities playing a large part in the proceedings to give television an air of showbiz razzmatazz. At the time, this was a useful distraction for a company that was still receiving bad press for the collapse of ITV Digital.

The following year, all of the TV companies gathered in Bath in an attempt - albeit not an entirely convincing one - to show there was a consensus view among them, with the TV United conference.

Again the focus had shifted and, given the different vested interests of each of the TV companies, the difficulty in finding a common theme was obvious. It was very much a back-to-basics conference, with presentations showing how the use of TV advertising had converted into sales.

There was an attempt at providing proprietary research to back up the case studies, with the Manchester University psychology professor Geoffrey Beattie wheeled out to give an elementary lecture on the impact of moving pictures and sound on the brain. Subsequently, he has gone back to being Big Brother's resident psychologist.

Since then, the TV companies have struggled to agree a way of marketing themselves, so ITV has taken the lead under the "Values of Fame" banner.

The brainchild of ITV Sales' director of customer relationship management, Justin Sampson, it forms the basis of all of ITV's future customer communication and will be presented to agencies from September.

"In the past, what ITV has done is a series of marketing initiatives with unrelated themes. What we have to do is establish a coherent marketing theme with a strong and identifiable benefit for our customers," Sampson says.

This is all laudable stuff and exactly the sort of thing that agencies want to hear. But an obvious criticism aimed at Sampson is that promoting the benefits of TV via the "values of fame" is a little simplistic and doesn't tell the industry anything it doesn't already know.

"The market is more sophisticated than this - we need real nuggets of insight and plenty of them," one broadcast director comments.

Mark Holden, the executive planning director at PHD, agrees. "ITV's decision to sell the TV medium is absolutely the right one and we thoroughly welcome it as long as it is backed up by tangible evidence and substance," he says.

While he is currently short on detail, Sampson promises that his initiative will be supported by quantifiable and robust data, case studies and new insights.

"This is not a one-off marketing piece but a marketing programme. Next year is ITV's 50th birthday and we'll do something along the lines of '50 years of fame'. We want to show how TV can provide enduring fame," he says.

Sampson says that the "Values of Fame" initiative is not just about driving sales, although this is clearly an important part of it. The research will show how advertising on ITV can change views about a brand, affirm a brand image and motivate staff.

While we'll have to wait and see what evidence Sampson has to back this up, it at least provides agencies with something new to associate with ITV.

"This sounds like a repackaging of ITV's USP. But it makes sense for the company to shift the emphasis away from the previous focus on the ITV merger and Contract Rights Renewal into something more positive," one broadcast director says.