Martin Bowley, Carlton's meltdown and ITV's spat with the Radio
Advertising Bureau: now there's a hoohah to fill Campaign's letters page
for weeks. But there's one angle of this fevered debate that hasn't made
it to the letters page. Would it make sense for commercial television
companies to present a united front and market TV advertising
generically? Since the RAB is the model that is looked at when it comes
to ballsey marketing of a medium, this calls for a comparison of radio
When the RAB was formed in 1992, radio was fragmented in its ownership
making it difficult for individual players to break ranks. It was in
mostly private rather than public hands and the goldmine of deregulation
was around the corner. Its core business was radio advertising, the
"enterprises" side of things having not yet emerged as another revenue
stream. After years of underinvestment in marketing, there was a clear,
commonly held philosophy to be promulgated: radio is undersold.
There were several lines of attack available to the RAB since only a
minority of the people it needed to win over - media buyers, clients and
creatives - had any experience of radio. And while it was not an easy
sell because back then (as now) most radio advertising was dire, the
entry costs made it worth taking a risk. The cherry on top of the cake
was the indisputable fact that radio commanded so little market share in
1992. At 2 per cent, or thereabouts, the only way was up.
Fast forward to 2001 and the testosterone-fuelled world of TV
advertising where the main players cannot even agree whether it's
The situation couldn't be more different. Ownership is concentrated and
the issue is when to break ranks, not whether it makes sense to do
The main players are publicly quoted with high shareholder expectations
and declining earnings.
Distractions from the core business are everywhere - TiVo, interactive
TV, other media and the digital quagmire.
Far from underinvestment, there is more research on TV than any buyer
could read in several lonely lifetimes.
As for commonly held beliefs, forget it. Commonly held arrogance, greed
and negligence, more like. And do you know any creatives or buyers that
need convincing that TV advertising works? Me neither. The mouldy cherry
on the top of this cake is the dire economic environment with, according
to Lorna Tilbian and her team at Numis, no recovery likely before (wait
for it) 2003.
So the RAB could only attack, while TV needs to defend. But,
paradoxically, aggressive defence may just promote the current
misgivings everyone has about the medium and its inmates. All of which
can be summed up as three cheers for a united marketing effort from TV
companies - but who would be mad enough to take the job on?