MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Why the academic take on TV doesn't affect advertisers

TV, the most powerful medium? Bloody obvious isn't it. Like choosing between a pornographic magazine, a sex phoneline and a blue movie. You go for the moving pictures every time, (almost) total sensory satisfaction. And with this fruity analogy one media executive summed up ITV's latest pitch - a study proving that TV is the most impactful of all media.

This media executive's cynicism is understandable. Either there's a graveyard somewhere wherein is buried all that media owner research that found someone else's medium to be rather more tasty, or else all media owner research is carefully framed to ensure the right results even before the first box has been ticked.

So it is easy to dismiss ITV's research as just another tedious piece of self-serving media-owner twaddle that simply patronises its sophisticated commercial customers. Perhaps this is why ITV has taken an interestingly academic approach in an attempt to map how the brain actually responds to the TV medium. A valiant ploy to disguise the usual platitudes under an academic veneer? At first glance, yes. "The brain simply likes telly," breezes Professor Geoffrey Beattie, a man better known for his appearances on Big Brother than for his services to ITV's ad coffers.

And there are many holes to be picked in this research. For starters the 150 respondents were shown a basic audio visual image, a basic audio version of the same message and a text version of scripts. Crucially, these messages were not ads, simply information. So there is no parallel with the best, most creative uses of the individual media for commercial purposes; a bad TV ad might well be more memorable than a half-decent press ad, but for all the wrong reasons.

But in trying to gain some understanding about the way the brain processes and stores information and the role that body language can play in forming our view of TV ads, the research starts some interesting hares running.

There's surely more work to be done here, though at the risk of designing a lowest common denominator formula for TV creativity. The really interesting thing about the study, though, is the implicit acknowledgement that TV needs to be marketed. Slowly, slowly the new wind of change at ITV is blowing through a more thoughtful and proactive approach to selling telly.

Yes, the TV industry has been too focused on numbers - to the detriment of all parties. And not enough work has been done on understanding how TV works.

But will this sort of research lure more adspend on to telly? No. No-one needs persuading about the power of telly; Vietnam wasn't decided by bus sides.The real task remains getting the right people to watch in the right numbers, and that means finding the right programme schedule.

Given ITV's current programming fare, a study into the bizarrre working of the commissioning editor's brain might be more useful.

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