Beware The Perfect Storm

The perfect storm of media is coming. Buoyed by the recent economic surge, advertising spending is rising. Many news organizations are attributing their newfound profits to advertising growth. With the combination of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the close presidential race, and the new 52-week television seasons, advertisers will soon be finding themselves struggling for finite media time.

To accommodate the new climate, advertisers and media buyers need to examine each situation and become creative and resourceful with media placement. How are media buyers planning for this maelstrom?

Some advertisers purchased commercial time before and during the upfront. NBC will be promoting its new fall programs heavily during the Olympic broadcast, reaping the benefits of the ratings boost. The additional promos for the new programs will decrease available inventory, while increasing prices for the commercials. Following suit, several advertisers have already booked spots for Fox's and NBC's new 52-week seasons, even before the new shows build an audience.



Some advertisers are waiting around to pick up the scatter market. Like scavengers, they take advantage of the opportunities left by the early buyers. While selection is limited, several cable networks are counter-programming to the Olympics, such as Lifetime Network's TV movie "Gold," and SoapNet's "Days of Our Lives Marathon," for viewer's that aren't dazzled by the discus. While scatter prices are higher and the spots less efficient, the counter-programming strategy can still build an audience.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and increasingly targeted audience segments allow ads to be customized without becoming Orwellian. For example, the Weather Channel plans to offer a service that allows media buyers to tailor ads to each forecast, from airing commercials for rugged trucks in rainy segments to simultaneously showing ads for convertibles in sunshine states. Cable is creating more and more niche advertising opportunities and the ratings of some of its programs are beginning to rival those of the networks.

Buyers are also experimenting with entirely different media as an alternative. Marketers of wireless products are on the forefront of this approach as they use databases of user profiles to deliver personalized ads via cell phones. With 1.3 billion wireless phones in the world, this untapped media channel allows tailored, one-to-one marketing. In fact, some ads even reference the time of day or the actual location of the customer. Consumers are gradually opening up to this unorthodox method, but advertisers must tread carefully around privacy concerns.

Buyers beware. Without taking innovative approaches, advertisers have little choice but to weather the storm. Network spots simply don't reach as many people as they once did. About 40 years ago, 80 percent of U.S. women could be reached by one commercial aired on the three major networks, but with today's media fragmentation the same commercial would have to run on 100 television channels. Buyers that miss this forecast are sure to get swamped.

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