It sounds uncharitable, but there is a parallel between those
unfortunates who take too many sleeping pills and the advertiser, Mark
Horgan of United Biscuits, who is leading the call for a boycott of ITV.
’It’s a cry for help,’ we say as we come over all empathetic and give
them a hug and a bunch of grapes.
The trouble is that while the boycotters have part diagnosed the root of
the problem - ITV’s fading audience performance - they’ve missed out a
vital bit and they haven’t a clue what the cure is. A day or even a
week’s boycott would only intensify the problem when everybody plays
catch-up afterwards. And that’s for those who go along with the
For the others, well, what would you do if your major competitor
announced it was coming off ITV? Why, you’d say ’we’re right behind you,
pal’ and pile into the time they have vacated. Truth be told, a boycott
is a recipe for chaos guaranteed to produce the opposite effect to that
intended. It must be significant that major players such as Procter and
Gamble and BT have, so far, stayed away from the pro-boycott lobby.
But while advertisers have every right to lambast ITV, they must look at
their own behaviour more dispassionately. Can it be any coincidence that
those advertisers most upset about ITV are those that spend least money
with Channel 4 and Channel 5? Those who spend their money with ITV
really ought to ask themselves (or their agencies) just why it is that
they are concentrating their money there. (I bet I know the answer too:
they do it under the guise of a share deal to get a bigger
Yet without wishing to belittle the problem - at 15-20 per cent, TV
inflation puts some marketing directors at a massive disadvantage -
advertisers would be well advised to use this as an opportunity to
experiment with other media strategies as a sort of dry run for what
it’s going to be like five years down the road. Let’s be clear: if the
likes of United Biscuits think they have a problem with falling TV
audiences and inflation now, that’s nothing to what’s coming.
For too many mainstream, particularly fmcg, advertisers, I suspect, next
year’s media plan is little more than a rehash of this year’s plus a bit
(quite a bit) for inflation. But now is exactly the time they should be
experimenting with new ideas and different media, by which I don’t
necessarily mean the Internet.
Kellogg’s, for example, is using magazines in a way I have not seen
before, but it could as easily be radio or, on the other hand, the new
supermarket-linked poster format which looks, for the first time, to
offer fmcg advertisers a real reason to switch to the medium.
Unfair it may be, but the key is for advertisers to recognise that they
too are part of the inflation problem. The solution is, therefore, as
much in their own hands as it is in ITV’s.