The Consumer: TV Is Holding Its Own

  • by December 29, 2006

Mystery, suspense, intrigue - 2007 is going to be a great year for industry-watching. How is the industry going to evolve? Will it evolve at all? I'm really looking forward to seeing how events play out this year. I think it's going to be a bit of a watershed in many ways. It's been three years or so since the cover of BusinessWeek proclaimed the end of the mass market, which coincided with our own trade-press gathering to bid adieu to the 30-second TV spot.

But as the saying goes, we always overestimate what will happen within five years and underestimate what will happen in 20. Right now it feels as though the rule is holding. We're three years into the marketing revolution and although we've seen many instances of new thinking and new media driving brands and making sales, there's no discounting the fact that traditional approaches to marketing and communications are holding.

The best recent example of this was an article in Advertising Age a couple of months ago that analyzed the shift in media spending patterns for Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Where do those behemoths spend their money? Well, according to the latest data, P&G spent 69.3 percent of its budget on TV and a marginal 1.4 percent online; Unilever spent 63 percent of its budget on TV. The rationale? Simply that TV remains, in the minds of marketers, very efficient.

It's an interesting paradox, isn't it? If one were to base projected media expenditures solely on the public statements of these marketing organizations, you'd surely believe that their investment in boring old traditional TV advertising would have diminished significantly. But quite the contrary: Both of these marketers have increased their spending in the medium.

Will other marketers follow suit? Will less powerful and wealthy marketers decide that the traditional advertising model wasn't so bad after all? Will the mad rush toward developing real estate in Second Life slow down a little this year as marketers spend more energy developing entertaining TV commercials? It's going to be interesting to watch.

I think the root of the conundrum that major marketers face comes down to the issue of efficiency. That's the rationale that they provide for maintaining their levels of TV expenditure, at least. And there's no question that when we look at media efficiency using traditional metrics, TV looks strong. When it comes to delivering efficient reach and efficient frequency, it's hard to beat. But should we still be relying on those metrics?

I'll be watching with interest to see how far the engagement debate progresses this year. It seemed to be picking up steam in 2006, but then it felt like the wheels came off sometime around the Advertising Research Foundation conference. There was so much back and forth about what defined engagement and whether in fact it was something that could be measured at all that people seemed to lose interest in figuring it out. Is the engagement debate going to fizzle out? Will traditional metrics remain the sine qua non for the industry?

I hope not. I think that would be a terrible setback. It's inevitable that there will be resistance to change as far as media metrics are concerned. Lots of research companies and researchers have implemented massive, costly measurement infrastructures built on the theory that reach plus frequency equals sales. And to change that will be complicated and expensive. But as George Bernard Shaw said, "All progress depends on the unreasonable man." It may be unreasonable to continue to challenge the status quo, but progress depends on it.

And speaking of progress, I can't wait to see how people respond to the corporate invasion of consumer-generated spaces. There's something topsy-turvy about brands hijacking consumer-generated content and consumer-powered spaces such as MySpace, YouTube, and Second Life to promote themselves. There's always been an upside for the consumer in letting brands interrupt their leisure time. But in this instance, I'm just not seeing one. And I can't help wondering how long it's going to take for people to get so annoyed that they move past the first generation of user-generated sites. It's interesting to look at the comments that follow the "user-generated" commercials on YouTube, for example. They're usually not very complimentary. And there seem to be more of those covert operations playing every day. Will people turn off and tune out? We'll see.

There's so much to keep our eyes on. Are we going to keep on moving onward and upward this year or will we take a big step backward? Either way, 2007 is going to be one to watch.

Paul Parton is the brand-planning partner at The Brooklyn Brothers, a creative collective.


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