As Recession Ensues, Will Most Advertisers Default To Easier-To-Justify TV Buy?

  • by June 2, 2008
This year's upfront selling season seems to have come with its own wrinkles that haven't exactly continued the pattern of the past few. Instead of the continual devolvement and advertiser mutiny that we've seen in the past couple of years, what seems to have occurred is exactly the opposite -- advertisers returning to spend upfront dollars, despite continued network ratings declines and further ad skippage.

This seems to be happening for several reasons. First, those same advertisers that held out in years past wound up paying even more in a scatter market that produced windfalls for select broadcasting and cable networks last year. Strike or no strike, they had to advertise somewhere -- and the scatter market strategy wasn't exactly value-priced. Not so sound a strategy for this year, it seems.

Second, we've got a ratings mess -- complete with everything from program ratings to C3 ratings to average live commercial ratings -- even to exact minute ratings. From the creative sidelines, it seems like there's a free-for-all of buying criteria out there that makes locking in a TV CPM upfront... well, a lot less free for all.



Third, and perhaps most significant, is the acknowledgment that we're headed towards a deeper recession -- leading most traditional advertisers to forgo the whole "shift to digital" trend and simply fall back on the ol' tried and true TV schedule that they figure will at least keep retail sales going and maintain their brand health measures in this uncertain economic/election year into next.

If you're an advertiser, put all three factors together and you're left with fear and control as your buying motivations. Which is not exactly a great place to be if you're reliant on an industry in as much chaos and entrenched thinking as the agency business is. Combine the two dynamics and it's not exactly a setup for guerilla-like innovative planning and gutsy creative execution either.

The real challenge for us agency folk is, instead of just taking the money, we should be out there helping lead the more enlightened advertisers to see that more inventive digital and enhanced TV programs can actually out-engage pure impression-based models based on effective frequency if they're crafted correctly. That means demonstrating how to leverage the digital channel as more than just a vehicle to top off television awareness measures with rich-media banners. It means showing how we can truly immerse consumers in deeper, richer storytelling that is driven by their TV buys and helps activate more trial and sampling, e-couponing and sales results than simply telling the same old brand health measures and purchase intent story.

In these recession-facing times, those who lean into digital by going way beyond the brand site and rich-media banners is one way to separate the marketers and agencies on offense... from those just playing awareness defense. Even the networks themselves, notably ABC, NBC and Turner, have leading-edge, robust custom digital program offerings to help augment even the most defensive TV schedule with tremendous online engagement opportunities.

Meanwhile, if you're like most agencies feeling the pain of marketer CFOs freezing or cutting budgets while they move to keep cash on the balance sheet and take a wait-and-see posture until Q4, your answer isn't "wait and see" before you can truly judge whether the digital shift is continuing to expand. The answer is for us all to go on offense and prove why a more engaged consumer is more valuable than a mere impression.

Otherwise, for most marketers, the move to digital will simply amount to Searching for more answers... and keywords.

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