PERSPECTIVE: We might support P&G’s demands if its ads were better

As a teenager my favourite show was Soap, LWT’s Friday night Dallas/Dynasty pastiche. I loved the manic exploits of ’invisible’ Bert, ’barmy’ Jessica, and ’is he gay?’Jody (Billy Crystal). When its wonderful theme tune began, you never knew what would happen. ’Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode.’ And then, scarcely had it started, it was over, and I was left shouting at the telly that we’d only had 21 minutes of the actual programme. It was, unbeknown to me, my introduction to the issue of minutage.

As a teenager my favourite show was Soap, LWT’s Friday night

Dallas/Dynasty pastiche. I loved the manic exploits of ’invisible’ Bert,

’barmy’ Jessica, and ’is he gay?’Jody (Billy Crystal). When its

wonderful theme tune began, you never knew what would happen. ’Confused?

You won’t be after this week’s episode.’ And then, scarcely had it

started, it was over, and I was left shouting at the telly that we’d

only had 21 minutes of the actual programme. It was, unbeknown to me, my

introduction to the issue of minutage.



So, when the national media, picking up on our ’ITV responds to P&G’s

challenge’ story, asked if Procter and Gamble was naive to make such

demands, I said I’d never suggest such a thing. Even when P&G calls for

five minutes of ads a night on the BBC, I suspect it may have done some

secret deal that will be announced the day after I write ’P&G’s naive’,

and I’d look stupid. It’s the journalists’ incredulity that’s naive. The

world’s largest advertiser, spending dollars 3 billion a year, is

entitled to ask a few questions of the media-owning recipients of its

funding, and the regulators that control the media environment.



If you doubt this power, remember ’the moral majority’ middle-American

advertisers got Soap axed in the 80s because it was too naughty. (Please

someone bring it back from episode one. P&G could advertise Pampers to

all of us new parents in the breaks.)



Clearly, P&G has failed to get answers to its latest demands in private.

While ITV has been content to see old chestnuts like minutage and

airtime inflation kicked about, P&G has seen UK TV costs soar so much

that it is ’harder to justify investment here’. So it went public in an

astonishingly frank manner (see feature, page 28). Suddenly the sales

houses are being surprisingly accommodating. Is it cynical to suggest

prior knowledge? TSMS and Laser hinted as much privately in Monte Carlo.

Now, it’s over to Frank Willis at the ITC, with Martin Bowley in the

position of being the ’viewer’s friend’. Do viewers want extra

advertising minutage? You can bet your life they don’t, once they have

understood it will truncate Coronation Street.



Put another way: less Cracker, more ’Daz doorstep challenge’. Well done

P&G for bullying ITV out of its inertia, but at the risk of repeating

past columns, if vast-spending advertisers such as BT and P&G made more

entertaining ads in lieu of the entertainment minutage they replace (and

pay for), then extra minutage might be more welcome.



It is actually naive to dismiss this as a dilemma between business

realism and cultural consumption. More ’Daz doorstep challenge’ means

more opportunity to zap ITV and turn to the alternative media P&G has

observed mushrooming around us.