OPINION: Wise clients will utilise the full span of media agencies - John Carter says clients should study military strategy - think of big TV buyers as aircraft carriers surrounded by nimble crafts - to help them use resources wisely

Before Pearl Harbour, the world’s great navies were committed builders of battleships: enormous single hulls bearing every conceivable armament.

Before Pearl Harbour, the world’s great navies were committed

builders of battleships: enormous single hulls bearing every conceivable


Glorious as they appeared, Japanese airmen dispatched the primacy of

’big, full-service warships’ to history.

A new naval strategy now prevails: numerous specialist ships sail

together as part of an aircraft carrier ’battle group’, while

interceptors from the carrier create a ’no-fly zone’ up to 4,000 miles

across. Within the patrolled area, specialist ships can concentrate on

performing their tasks without having to look over their shoulders,

literally, for airstrikes.

So what’s all this got to do with media? Everything really. Think of

airspace as airtime and the big TV buying points as aircraft


The slow-moving, slow-turning airtime carrier sails on steadily, but

also provides protection for smaller, more nimble agencies.

Two weeks ago, WPP launched its new mother-ship, HMS MindShare (after

many construction delays, casting doubt once again over labour relations

in British shipbuilding).

As a primary weapons system, the new vessel will have an

airtime-superiority wing armed with more than pounds 250 million worth

of TV billings. It joins CIA’s Negotiation Centre, Carat’s TMD and

Cordiant’s Zenith in the big league of airtime carriers. Still in dry

dock, but potentially more potent, are the Omnicom and Interpublic


But while these new formations are good news for agencies, they aren’t

universally good news for clients.

Many advertisers compete directly with each other and look to their

media agencies to help them gain competitive market advantage. What the

smartest clients will spot is that agency carriers don’t really create

advantage, but general protection. Everyone will be buying at the same

rate because, with so few key buyers, everyone will buy at roughly the

same price (as long as they’re protected by a carrier).

WPP’s MindShare, like other carriers before it, will give WPP’s clients

greater protection from danger, but no more.

As airtime prices equalise, and anybody with any sense joins a carrier

group to benefit from the equalisation, clients will start to look for

added value in other areas.

They will discover (or rediscover) a few crucial truths, forgotten in

the clamour surrounding the launch of the super-carriers, namely: 1

Media is not a commodity: 2. Biggest doesn’t equal best: 3. You don’t

have to pay extra for quality, because you have the luxury of being able

to define what quality means for you: 4. If saving money on media is

what you’re after, savings are made by getting the strategy right: 5.

Strategy in isolation creates no value; to implement the original

vision, planning and buying have to share common purpose.

Once advertisers rediscover these values, they’ll see that simply being

part of a large buying group guarantees none of them. That’s not to say

that being part of a carrier group isn’t essential. It is. But the trick

is to get the best out of what the group has to offer.

For a guided missile frigate, for example, air cover allows it to patrol

relatively untroubled. It makes its own manoeuvres, fights its own

fight. Speed and flexibility allow it to reach waters slower-moving

aircraft carrier can’t get near.

The ultimate benefit to clients is that they can choose from a broader

range of craft - without worrying about their immediate survival. Under

the protection of the carrier, all are safer bets.

Whether MindShare creates this new benefit for clients, or simply

provides greater protection, remains to be seen.

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