PERSPECTIVE: Selling the magic of TV? Better get ready for a long, hard fight

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

with TV.



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

raining outside.



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

so.



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?