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.