Charles Vallance
Charles Vallance
A view from Charles Vallance

In praise of TV

Campaign is in a nostalgic mood as it celebrates its 50th, so I thought I'd join in the reminiscing.

Here goes:

I bet he drinks…

A finger of fudge is just enough…

He's a secret lemonade drinker…

Many of you, even those under 40, will recall these lines and the brands they were for. And, I'd wager, that puts you in the same company as millions of other people in the country.

What's interesting about these lines is that none has been used in a millennium. They are ancient. Yet we remember them.

We remember them because they were TV ads. I could talk about memory structure or adstock or low involvement processing. But the simplest explanation is that they were TV ads. It's amazing really how strongly they are embedded in our minds.

So, given its power, you'd think a TV ad is something our industry would cherish.

But, leafing through Campaign's 50th anniversary edition, I'm not sure we do. John Hegarty points out that, of 26 Cannes categories, only one is for TV. He makes his point with characteristic elan: "As a creative person, I've realised that I can win a Grand Prix simply by getting someone to jump out of a box in Leicester Square."

This is not to disparage other media, other channels or other creative vehicles. It is to defend the essential value of the TV ad, which we are in danger of underestimating. Worse still, we may be in danger of willfully underestimating it by colluding in a number of myths. Three, to be precise.

Myth one is that people hate TV ads (or "fucking hate them", to quote from the same article). There is not much evidence of this. Agreement with the statement "The ads are as good as the programmes" has actually risen for the past four consecutive years, according to TGI data. Meanwhile, in a survey conducted by Watermelon last week, the proportion of 16- to 34-year-olds who claimed not to like TV ads at all was 7.9%, as opposed to 15.1% who like them a lot and 60.1% who either quite like or don’t mind them. Therefore, if you make a good ad, you’ll get a fair hearing.

Myth two is that, even if they don't actually hate them, people skip the ads. Again, this appears to be less than adjacent to the facts. Before I give you the answer, have a guess at how much of TV is still watched in real time, according to Barb, in May 2018. I'll give you a hand. Is it a) 62%; b) 71%; or c) 79%? The actual answer is d) 86%. The inescapable conclusion is that people are considerably more at ease with TV ads than we sometimes tell ourselves. It's possible that they actually appreciate the value exchange of watching a few commercial messages in return for high-quality free TV, such as the impressive schedule served up by ITV over recent months.

The third myth is that TV viewing is in decline, therefore TV advertising is less important. On this point, it is fair to say that real-time TV viewing is in decline with some groups (although overall screen viewing and video-on-demand isn't). But to use this as a reason to diminish the importance of TV is a bit like saying a drought's coming, so we'd better not stock up on water. It's an absurd argument.

I am not a doom-monger about TV, but those who are should be at the front of the queue exhorting clients to buy it while it lasts. There simply is no medium that serves a brand better if you want to build mass affinity. Why steer clients away from it when its price has not yet rocketed due to scarcity and when it is still proving to be working so hard?

Like all media, TV will evolve. It will continue to create appointments to view. We will be celebrating it, and the brands it helps create, long after some of the more ephemeral of those Cannes Grands Prix are forgotten. This was brought home to me the other day when I was spammed by YouTube Premium suggesting that I can now "watch YouTube without the ads". Ironically enough, I was watching a TV ad at the time. It had already been viewed by millions. We should be wary of biting the TV hand that feeds us. 

Charles Vallance is the founder and chairman of VCCP
@TheBrandedGent