Commentary

Fear Sells

  • by July 19, 2010

Fear is one of our most powerful emotions. And it is often used to drive behavior, whether it's a politician fear-mongering a constituency, a manager using that tactic with a subordinate, or a seller to a buyer.

A friend of mine from a major cable network recently told me, after his network completed its TV upfront selling for 2010/11, how amazed he was at how much selling could be done through fear and the perception of what defines premium inventory. We can visit the second part of that comment another time, but for now I'd like to focus on the first part, still common throughout TV ad sales: Fear sells.

As a TV buying executive at an ad agency, maybe you feel some fear of being shut out of those top one-to-five shows that each network holds sacred and ties to buying other non-premium shows. Maybe you feel some fear of having to tell clients that they were shut out of the #1 targeted (and/or the client's favorite) show because you held out for a 6% increase instead of the seller's last 1 a.m. offer of 9%. Maybe you feel some fear of being disciplined or losing your job because you thought about trying something different that could fail the first time, since so much more money is now spent by fewer people like you at major agency holding companies.

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The responsibilities and stakes are higher for everyone, especially at the most senior levels -- like where you sit, and where major decisions and negotiations ultimately happen. And maybe you feel some fear after being told for the past 10 years that the only medium you've worked in is slowly dying and is being replaced by this newer, hipper online medium with more data -- one that seems to have a lot of people working in your same role, just 5-15 years younger, and often for much lower salaries

Caveat: I have not personally participated in a TV upfront in quite some time, but I have spoken with many folks that I used to work with on the buyer and seller sides, who still participate in the upfront every year, and have for the past 10-35 years. Not much has changed -- and why would it, with over $70 billion flowing in U.S. TV advertising, no significant stance taken from the buy-side, and seemingly no major alternative on the horizon?

To other TV buyers I do not know or have not spoken with recently: Please challenge me on the above assumptions and tell me where you see things differently. I certainly do not mean to show disrespect for the critical role you play in this major part of the advertising ecosystem, but there might be some better alternatives to make your jobs based less on fear and more on facts. Relationships are obviously critical between seller and buyer, but better data could help level things a bit.

The current group of U.S.-based online video ad networks, which includes our company, is trying with limited degrees of success to move TV budgets into online video, against a rapidly changing landscape of consumer behaviors, ecosystem players, and technologies.

In Germany, where our company was founded, we now receive over 50% of our online video revenue from TV budgets (often made by TV buyers). One of the reasons is that TV buyers there are not as afraid to place online video on their buys alongside broadcast TV. How can we help bring TV buyers and online buyers together more and alleviate concerns on both sides while delivering more value and ROI for all of us? Key research partners like Nielsen and comScore are fortunately starting to realign their organizations and product sets to help us.

As online video ad sellers, let's not be afraid to ask the tough questions of ourselves to better position our offerings to these audiences that we need to understand better. Let's also work on presenting a better attitude, maturity and respect to our clients no matter what they are currently playing.

Sure, we could sell online video today through fear, but the beauty of our medium is that we don't have to. It's exciting when clients buy us because they want to and know with confidence that what we do works -- not because they are afraid of what would happen if they didn't.

3 comments about "Fear Sells".
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  1. Madeleine Forrer from NRTC, July 19, 2010 at 4:26 p.m.

    The differences between Germany and the US entertainment environments continue to be pretty signficant. So expecting the US market to mirror or follow Germany is a pretty big stretch. As you said, there's not much incentive for a $70B market to move anywhere else when it's able to acheive its objectives (or convince itself that it's achieving its objectives) in the current environment.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 19, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

    Fear not only sells, it rules the world and in a word - religion.

  3. Duane Dirstine from Yahoo!, July 19, 2010 at 5:26 p.m.

    TV dollars are not going to flow online for 'dog on the skateboard' stuff; as in broadcast, it will follow super-premium content. And, "this newer, hipper online medium with more data" is merely just another platform (as is mobile) for that content. Of course, once "TV Everywhere" comes to realization, TV budgets will become more dispersed as users watch certain shows via IP; but, again, the dollars will follow the programming not necessarily the medium.

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