Another bizarre twist in ITV-advertiser relations. This latest
chapter begins with a top-level meeting between an ITV delegation and
representatives of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the
aim being to clear up some recent misunderstandings. The meeting was
judged a success by ITV - if the outcome was not entirely sweetness and
light, at least they had re-established mutual respect.
So senior ITV figures were dismayed to discover, a matter of hours
later, that ISBA had forgotten to mention one tiny detail - it had
decided turn up the heat in its ’knock ITV’ campaign. Letters were going
out to more than 100 advertisers, reiterating ISBA criticisms of ITV’s
recent performance, particularly its alleged inability to control
airtime inflation. Advertisers were invited to respond (a specimen
letter was even included), indicating their anger at ITV and offering
official support for the continuing ISBA campaign.
A number of strained ITV-ISBA telephone conversations followed. Why had
this not been mentioned at the meeting? The answers left much to be
Meanwhile, ITV felt obliged to take legal advice about the statements
made in the mailshot - statements that were potentially misleading and
defamatory. It also rushed out a substantial and trenchant defence
Just before the Easter break, tempers had begun to cool. ITV had decided
not to sue. ISBA agreed to provide ITV with its mailing list so that
ITV’s chief executive, Richard Eyre, could put his side of the argument.
Senior ISBA-friendly clients said it was all a ’storm in a teacup’.
Perhaps. But there were alternative theories going around town.
Suggestions that many advertisers are - at the very least - embarrassed
about recent events. Mutterings from agency sources that the upper
echelons of ISBA had lost the plot. And that it was unrepresentative of
the great mass of advertisers. After all, isn’t it well known that
ISBA’s media policy is dictated by just three high-spending fmcg
advertisers who are traditionally big users of ITV - Mars, Procter &
Gamble and Unilever?
’That is a very old chestnut indeed,’ John Hooper, ISBA’s
director-general, counters. ’The reality is that all our members have
the opportunity to make an input.
Some may have marginally different views on alternative tactics but I
have not had a single member coming back to me and saying that they
believe the whole thrust of this is flawed. If that were the case,
they’d have voted with their feet a long time ago. We are the sum total
of our membership - and they often complain that we canvass their views
But, aside from the issue of the merits or otherwise of its current
stance, isn’t ISBA in danger of discrediting its own cause? Isn’t it
The theory was always that Eyre would be granted a pretty extensive
honeymoon period. When he took up his new position last autumn, he
promised glasnost and perestroika - structural overhaul of the network
and a new openness.
In January, he delivered concrete plans that won almost universal
And he published detailed audience targets. Hostages to fortune perhaps
- but a new openness certainly.
Yet ISBA’s impatience has apparently been undiminished. It is said that
they can’t forgive ITV for convincing the market that longer ad breaks
would be a very bad idea indeed. Some honeymoon for Eyre. Even Hooper
admits there have been regrettable aspects to all of this. ’The
unfortunate thing is that everyone is extremely supportive of the work
that Richard Eyre is doing to address audiences. But none of that will
be coming along for nine months to a year. We need a little bit of help.
We need it now.
This is an ongoing business - it is nothing new. We have always made it
crystal clear what we wanted and you cannot expect us to lie down and
roll over because not everyone sees things in exactly the same terms as
Many at ITV remain angry about the relentlessly negative noises they
hear emanating from ISBA. But Martin Bowley, chief executive of Carlton
UK Sales, maintains they have merely revealed their true colours. He
says: ’I have some sympathy for ISBA. But at the end of the day, as a
trade body, it’s not made up of the people who sign the cheques. They
are not the people in the market doing the deals.’
Should ISBA lay off for a bit? Lynda Graham, managing director of Media
Audits, has some sympathy for ITV. She points out that a lot of
inflation is caused by advertisers themselves - a lot of new categories,
like telecoms, are spending serious amounts of money these days.
Increased demand pushes prices up. But she adds: ’The ITV issue revolves
around the question of its ability to attract audiences and I think it
is fair to say that they have been remiss in that area in the past, both
in terms of programme development and in marketing those programmes.
’I believe that in terms of supply, priority should be given to
increasing audiences and I also believe that there are dangers in going
down other routes - you can reduce the value of advertising by having
But ITV is perhaps being a bit precious about this subject because it is
already manipulating its inventory to put out a lot more than
seven-and-a-half minutes of advertising in peak.’
Many, though, are losing patience with ISBA. Alan Brydon, managing
director of CIA Medianetwork, says: ’I do think they’ve lost the plot a
bit. Any decent client with a decent media agency should be able to come
to a view about whether TV is a decent investment at the prices it’s
being asked to pay. If it isn’t, they should move to an agency that can
buy better. It seems to me that there are very few advertisers really
complaining about the current situation and those that are are the
precisely the ones that are most entrenched on the subject of media
choice. The truth is that where media effectiveness is concerned, the
people who are getting the best results are the ones who are prepared to
do something different rather than merely buying loads more ratings at