MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; CAR ADVERTISING: Has Carlton overstretched in an effort to woo advertisers?

Alasdair Reid investigates why car-makers are keen to sign deals with Carlton

Alasdair Reid investigates why car-makers are keen to sign deals with


The London TV market used to be dead easy. The London weekday franchise

has always been a natural home for baked beans and detergent ads, while

LWT mops up in financial services, lager and cars - all that stuff

targeted at those hard-to-reach men. Men watch more at the weekend while

the Carlton inventory is awash with the housewives delivered by daytime

schedules, mini-series, game shows and Coronation Street.

Well, that’s the tradition. So what are all the car manufacturers doing

flocking to Carlton these days?

Last week, Mediapolis, the media buyer for Peugeot and Citroen,

committed its 1997 budgets to the weekday station. The Mediapolis money

joins budget commitments from Ford and Vauxhall. But some observers say

it’s just not possible for Carlton to meet the requirements of all these


What’s going on? Is this an accident waiting to happen?

The theory in some quarters is that Carlton has been ‘buying in’ car

business because it is playing ‘chicken’ with its traditional fmcg

advertisers, which have been demanding too much discount. But a rival

sales house estimates that, because LWT has a natural price advantage

when it comes to this target market, Carlton has had to offer a whopping

25 discount points against its station price for ABC1 men in order to

pull in the Peugeot and Citroen business.

Another rumour doing the rounds states that Carlton is about to lose a

big piece of car business and is seeking to plug the gap before it

appears. An early favourite for defection was Ford. The speculation was

that Ford wanted a lot of activity geared around the Grand Prix coverage

- which is, of course, on LWT. The problem with this theory is that Ford

has a relationship with both London contractors and has access to more

than enough weekend airtime.

‘Carlton will continue to have the majority of Ford’s London spend next

year,’ Alan James, the head of TV buying at Ford’s media specialist, the

Network, reveals. ‘I don’t really know what the fuss is about, quite

honestly. The thing that people forget is that Carlton was undertraded

in the car sector for 1996 and LWT was overtraded. There was a natural

process of rebalancing that was due to take place. I do think that there

are surprises yet to come in terms of people switching allegiance. Not

us, though.’

Vauxhall also says it’s sticking where it is. Volkswagen? BMW? Fiat?

We’ll see.

Steve Platt, Carlton’s director of sales, maintains that no-one should

have cause to worry: ‘Our track record of delivering deals in any

category is beyond question. We only make deals if we are confident that

we can deliver them.

‘I can’t imagine where this speculation is coming from - but whoever is

responsible for it should concentrate on their own business and let us

get on with looking after ours.’

Others are less optimistic. One senior media auditor hoped that all of

this brinkmanship and horsetrading - in which client needs sometimes

take second place to agency deals - would soon be a thing of the past.

‘If you’re sitting in the marketing department at a car manufacturer at

the moment, it must all look very scary,’ he reckons. ‘We have told our

clients to go along with the agency deals that their agencies are doing.

But in 1998 it will be a very different TV market indeed. Getting into

the right programming will be the main issue by then - and it won’t just

be about ITV. A combination of Channel 5 and Sky could be a potent mix -

especially in the car sector.’

Martin Bowley, Carlton UK Sales’ managing director, is delighted by the

idea of car advertisers chasing quality programming. ‘That’s why clients

will be using ITV in 1998,’ he insists.

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