Media Perspective: Spending your way out of the recession won't always pay off

Whatever else you can chuck at commercial TV right now, the allegation that it's neglected to market its way out of the ugly hole in which it finds itself is one that won't stick.

In fact, as broadcasters urge their biggest customers to spend, spend, spend their way out of a recession, most of them are throwing the kitchen sink at making sure they are heard.

The recent Thinkbox TV ad initiative puts its money where its mouth is and has resulted in an engaging commercial, while ITV1's attempt to build a channel brand is also worthy of some praise. We've also seen UKTV rebranding everything in sight and Virgin1's reinvention of the puppet mascot in the form of its "Red" character. Unfortunate, perhaps, given that the last cloth puppet to represent a digital TV company (Mother's "Monkey" creation for ITV Digital) was hardly what you'd call lucky.

But last week's events left me with the feeling that things have now gone too far, that some TV companies are merely pouring paraffin over their spent embers rather than stoking the furnace of their fortunes. Two adland pitches convinced me of this - first, Setanta's plans (outlined on the front page of Campaign, 12 June) to appoint an ad agency as it battled against going into administration, and, second, Virgin Media Television's decision to hold an advertising pitch while broadcasters bid to buy it from its Virgin Media parent.

Setanta just seemed to be taking the piss, not to mention tempting fate (as the interested parties in Project Kangaroo did by holding an advertising pitch last year before the doomed idea was booted into the outback by regulators). While VMTV, an altogether more successful content operation that is responsible for the aforementioned Red puppet plus channels such as Living and Bravo, might, at worst, stand accused of wasting everybody's time by holding a pitch in the middle of an auction process to find its new owner.

As one agency source said of Setanta: "Is this really the best use of their, and an agency's, time, when paying clients are more important than ever?" At least VMTV is more likely to prove a paying client (for its new agency The Brooklyn Brothers) than Setanta. And, in the long term, brands such as Living and Virgin1, which are arguably stronger than given credit for by the media buying community, will benefit from strong advertising and promotional support. But should Channel 4, ESPN, Sky or Viacom acquire VMTV, you could probably get quite short odds on this agency relationship being thrown straight out of the window.

All of which shows the TV industry still has some way to go in setting its priorities, but also that agencies continue to be willing to pitch for any port in a storm.

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