Column: Aperture -- No Spin - Just the Facts

I spent three weeks at the New York State Supreme Court. I was doing my civic duty as a juror and the experience was refreshing. After a while, I called it the “no-spin zone.” The judge was only interested in the facts. The lawyers presented the facts. The jury decided the case based on the facts. Refreshing.

We had plenty to digest at the courthouse. The man on trial was accused of robbery. He and some of his buddies stole jewelry from an upscale jewelry store and made off with the goods.

What were the facts? We saw the robbery take place on each of the store’s six video cameras. Fact. We saw matched fingerprints of the defendant and his accomplices. Fact. We saw the results of blood DNA left at the scene. Fact. We heard testimony from eyewitnesses. Fact. We saw photos of the damaged jewelry store. Fact. We heard the value of the stolen goods. Fact.

Yep, he was “sent up the river.” Fact.

Now I’m back in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of advertising, where the facts are spun so fast and so well that sometimes you’re not quite sure what’s up. So, what are we hearing? What’s the spin? The Web is the fastest-growing medium ever.  Cable technology is changing the way America views TV. The only viable measurement is commercial measurement. Network TV is the only way to get reach fast.

Gee, what if we conducted the advertising business based solely on the facts?

Let’s take the big boys first — the networks. Okay, I’ll say it: Big block reach is gone. Today’s prime-time ratings average is just about a 5, not a 10, 15, or 20. Yes, on average a prime-time network program reaches 5 percent of America and misses 95 percent, so cut the reach spin. It isn’t there.

Now the new boys — the Internet. Yes, the Internet is breaking every record we’ve seen set over the past 20 years in media. Site visits are up. Advertiser spending is up. And investment on the part of media companies (and Wall Street) is up. But are brands really running to the Internet because it’s a proven brand-builder, or are they running away from the deficiencies they see in traditional media?

I’d like us to start conducting business in the “no-spin zone.” 

The sales pitch wouldn’t matter — only what the consumer says would matter. The consumer holds all the facts, and is as astute as advertising and media folks.

Our industry has done a good job lately of shifting advertising strategy from traditional to nontraditional media. In fact, a recent consensus study on spending published by Media indicates that while advertising spending continues to rise, spending in traditional media has slowed, and spending in new media such as the Internet and other nontraditional forums is rising aggressively.

But are we doing the right thing for the wrong reason? Has anyone asked the consumer, the holder of the facts? I’ve been in too many meetings where advertisers seem to know what they want. “Let’s get the basics right before moving to nontraditional media” or “Our competition has accelerated its use of the Internet, so we need to be there.”

Back to my courtroom days: the judge would encourage the jury to examine the facts. Based on our experience with the consumer, the facts are found in research. In a recent study conducted for a beverage company, women said that they enjoyed their time with magazines, were open to receiving messages about food products there, and looked for news and information while they browsed their neighborhood store. Fact.

In the cosmetics market, our study indicated that the rating or reach of a medium — TV shows, Web sites, etc. — had little to do with the persuasiveness an ad in the medium had on consumers. For beauty products, the environment played the biggest role in prying open the mind of a prospect, enabling her to consider a brand. Fact.

The consumer is the arbiter of the “no-spin zone.” Our ability to listen is sometimes compromised by the hype coming from the media. Keep an eye on the facts. Listen to the consumer, and then drive media strategy from traditional to nontraditional media and beyond. 

Steve Farella, president-CEO, and Audrey Siegel, executive vice president and director of client services, are cofounders of TargetCast TCM. (

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