As you do in our part of town, I’m sitting in a Hammersmith traffic
jam looking at a poster. ’Daft not to,’ it says in dayglo green
lettering on a black background. Inside the uppercase ’D’ of ’Daft’, I
can just about make out a spotted cartoon cow. After some minutes
(binoculars would have helped), I am finally able to make out a logo and
some small print about the multi-channel benefits of subscribing to
cable. Yes folks, it’s an ad for Telewest.
My first reaction is that the poster specialist should get full marks
for buying that site. My second is that the creative agency should be
summarily dismissed for producing such tat. Even if I could tolerate
being told not to be daft (I can’t - it’s bad manners to hector your
customers), I’d guess nine out of ten passers-by wouldn’t bother or
couldn’t read the real sales message.
Now that’s off my chest, let me turn to the real point of this
Received wisdom has it that cable’s time is now. There are a lot of
reasons for believing this. A once fragmented industry has rapidly
consolidated to an NTL-Telewest duopoly. At some stage, a monopoly must
be on the cards.
Indisputably, cable is the product for the digital age - at least, it
ought to be.
You can pump everything down those fibre-optic cables - from TV to
interactive shopping to telephony and, as Telewest announced last week,
high-speed internet access 100 times faster than now. Despite this
plethora of services, cable continues to look like an industry late for
The answer, of course, is marketing - whether there’s a lack of it or
whether it’s just plain poor, as evidenced by the ’Daft’ poster
But the kind of marketing I’m talking about isn’t just a question of a
few bad posters or the obscure NTL campaign by J. Walter Thompson.
It’s things like advertising to customer connection-related services
such as subscriptions and billings; all the stuff once dismissed as back
office but which increasingly ought to be viewed as front-of-house.
My own experience was bad enough - it took me ages to persuade my cable
company to wire me up and then, once I’d decided I hated it, even longer
to get them to disconnect me. But if you want a sample of the full
horrors of dealing with cable companies, try reading The Guardian’s
Thursday consumer complaints page. There, without fail every week, one
anguished customer after another writes in with a tale of billings or
So it was with some amusement last week that I read Campaign’s interview
with Barclay Knapp of NTL. Anything BSkyB can do, he said, cable ’can do
Some hope, Mr Knapp. Both BSkyB and ONdigital’s advertising is light
years ahead of cable’s and, judging by its Livingston call centre, BSkyB
seems to have no trouble grasping that treating and communicating with
customers properly is the sine qua non of running a business like this.
The irony is that all the technological advances in the world won’t help
cable until it learns the importance of something as old-fashioned as