Media Perspective: Treating media as a commodity only works sometimes

At the end of my road there's a poster site that every month or so holds an ad for a differently dull female singer-songwriter. The sort that are advertised during lame imported light comedies on Channel 4 watched mainly by single women in their thirties.

I only know that they are different singer-songwriters because the name on the poster changes every month or so. Norah Jones, Katie Melua and now somebody called Joss Stone.

The music produced by these women might well be outstanding but I suspect it's not my cup of Bovril. But there must be something special at work in that record companies are succeeding in flogging what looks and sounds like the same thing over and over again to pretty much the same tightly defined audience.

Which leads neatly on to the issues faced by international media networks when selling their wares to advertisers. Our European Agencies report (p32 of this week's Campaign) makes for interesting reading as Steve Harrison, the international media director of the homecare company Henkel, lays into agencies.

Harrison makes some good points but it soon emerges that Henkel is a bit of a no-nonsense kind of operator. "Media agency networks are not offering advertisers what they want. We want greater efficiency and lower costs.

They offer ancillary services and higher fees," he says. He makes a fair point. Henkel is, after all, a company that wants to shift as many units to consumers for the lowest possible expenditure. It must be pretty exasperating to be constantly faced with the option of buying expensive add-on services.

But Harrison posits that international media is a commodity industry.

I disagree. Of course, you can treat it as such, selecting media agencies on the basis of price and efficient delivery of impacts. However, this vision neglects to acknowledge that there are differences between the quality of talent and thinking at agency networks. Planners straining to make an impact on client business lurk around every corner at some networks but are conspicuously absent at others.

And the difficulty for agencies is that they have to cater not only for clients like Henkel, but for those who want a good deal and something extra as well. In the same piece the Buena Vista client, Giles Hadman, expresses his frustration with agencies because sometimes they aren't effective "in manipulating the media outside of purely money-driven opportunities".

So Buena Vista wants a good deal and some clever thinking while companies such as Henkel seemingly want to buy on price alone. My sympathies lie with the agencies involved. Understanding a client who believes that cost equals value is more difficult than comprehending why a Norah Jones album might exist.

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