The UpFront Shrimp

Never wanting to be the last at anything--although I acknowledge that I am often the last to know nearly everything--I have decided to join Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola Co. and probably Unilever, and pull out of the TV upfront. Unlike the other megabrands whose media deals have become more complex, including branded content, original content and other types of integration with other media, I am not pulling out of counting on major TV deals year-round. No, I am pulling out because I am tired of shrimp.

For more years than I can count, I've been to "groundbreaking" upfront presentations, allowed the networks to shower me with baksheesh--er, I mean gifts--dazzle me with cheesy entertainment and strained comedy. I've tried to maintain a cordial demeanor while listening to net chiefs forecast smash-hit status for shows with scripts so bad they wouldn't make the remainder bin at Barnes & Noble--and would still be on the shelves after the local library's "all you can carry for free" day that ends their annual fundraiser.



I've watched emerging stars and has-been stars and athletes and net execs strain to remember their lines and emote with all the spontaneity of the James Madison Grammar School production of the "Princess and the Pea." But mostly, I am tired of shrimp.

Over the years I have bought into the upfront hype and committed a fair amount of the George H. Simpson Communications marketing budget to prime-time programming, wondering why I should pay more for less audience each season. I have seen a gradual but steady decline in audience inquiries, even when I sprang the big bucks for "Grey's Anatomy" and "American Idol." Which, by the way, greatly improves the quality of the lunches the net salesguys buy you--and the location of your seats at Yankees, Rangers and Knicks games. I had a pretty good time at the Olympics with NBC and loved the Fox spa trips, although I repeatedly turned down NASCAR boondoggles since I think all that driving around in a circle kind of a pointless waste of gas.

A few years ago, I started to dabble in online advertising. At first it was pretty cool... the rooftop parties, the concerts in ballparks and the free trips to Sunnyvale, Redmond, Dulles and San Francisco. I was overwhelmed with tote bags, T-shirts, baseball caps, pens, mouse pads, and sushi.

Then the bubble burst and golf outings turned into drinks, and lunches moved from Le Bernardin to Irish bars. But oddly, the ROI on my marketing spend improved substantially. As the industry progressed from banners to rich media to behavioral targeting, I found that I spent less and got more. The quality of my leads increased. In spite of click fraud, which is in some ways analogous to TV remote controls and DVRs, I could see from my search marketing spend who was converting and who wasn't. I could tell who was watching my online videos and could change my offers to optimize my revenue. No longer was I sweating the overnights and accepting make-goods on TV audience shortfalls. Life seemed better.

So, here we are again. Another round of lavish parties, trite presentations, moronic sitcoms, police and hospital dramas, sci-fi shows--and, yes, shrimp.

I think I'll pass.

The story you have just read is an attempt to blend fact and fiction in a manner that provokes thought, and on a good day, merriment. It would be ill-advised to take any of it literally. Take it, rather, with the same humor with which it is intended. Cut and paste or link to it at your own peril.
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