TV LOSES SEX APPEAL

October 16th, 2012

Before their careers took off, both Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn were told they were simply not sexy enough to make it in Hollywood. Being sexy is obviously in the eye of the beholder, which is just as well for TV.

I have just returned home from a media conference where I heard yet again from a senior media strategist with a global advertiser how TV is simply ‘not sexy enough’ as a media channel and is being kicked out of the marital bedroom in favour of those hot young things at Google, Facebook and Apple. In fact, to make it even worse, it is totally TV’s fault for not only letting itself go but also, at the same time, failing to put the effort into the relationship.  “You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t visit me every day with a stunning new creative solution…” . OK, I paraphrased things slightly, but not by much.

This last point grated somewhat; I’ve seen too many recent examples of broadcasters offering increasingly creative solutions to advertisers across Europe and North America to accept that is the case, but it did point to a major disconnect between the ambitions of the advertiser and the attitude and/or resources of the media owner. And it is not an isolated incident – I have seen similar presentations from a range of global advertisers who, between them, account for a huge proportion of media expenditure.

The presentation was subject to a great deal of polite but insistent questioning from the audience, following which I grasped three fundamental  challenges that a frumpy old medium like TV will need to address if it is pass the Marilyn and Audrey test, rather than be perceived to be the Anne Widdecombe/John Sergeant (take your pick) of communications planning.

The first of these is an ability to offer 360 degree solutions, encompassing all aspects of the media owner’s business. Having worked with a couple of the online giants recently, I think there is merit in this. Their sales teams (many of them from a TV background, ironically enough) can offer direct input from a range of disciplines within the group; sales, marketing, creative, editorial, strategic and technological. Compare this, say, to the tortuous processes advertisers need to go through just to get an advertiser-funded programme on air, with the programme production teams often offering a less than joined up approach to the whole process. There has to be a lesson there for the broadcasters. The TV sales people who have ‘gone digital’ certainly appear to relish the opportunities to not only think, but sell outside the box.

The second challenge is even more daunting. When pressed, the advertiser in question agreed that they have directly approached a wide range of media players to discuss potential partnerships, including production companies, Hollywood studios and platform operators. Although there were some TV broadcasters on the list, these were all global brands; highly localised or regionalised players were not being invited to the party. This would naturally exclude brands such as ABC, NBC, ITV, Channel 4, TF1, RTL and ProSiebenSat1 from the invitation list – all major players within their markets and all of whom would be expected to lead the way in offering creative solutions to the advertisers within those markets.

I have no doubt the broadcasters have the resources to rise to this challenge, but it might mean a more open-minded and collaborative approach between the organisations representing TV – whether that be Thinkbox, EGTA or the TV Bureau of Canada. If the individual TV companies cannot get an invite to the party, maybe they should work together to enable the case for TV to be made to the global communications planners and strategists that now sit in head offices across the USA and Europe. If nothing else, it would get them on the guest list and the sheer novelty of seeing the whole TV industry work together in such a way would send out a very powerful signal.

Of course, it would probably never happen!

The third challenge is an even more fundamental one. Throughout the presentation (and the many other similar presentations I have seen given by global comms strategists of major advertisers), I felt the enthusiasm was invested in what the technology could do rather than the creative excellence behind what was being communicated. This meant that some of the examples given involved clever use of technology and a successful performance amongst those reached BUT many of the creative ideas appeared tired and forced, and the reach levels of the campaigns were less than impressive.

We are now two decades into the digital revolution, and yet this ‘TV is not sexy enough’ mindset appears to me to be both retrograde and lazy. It works on an assumption of TV’s role in the digital media landscape which is at least ten years out of date. It assumes the media channel can be separated and placed in a silo. It also demonstrates a discouraging ignorance of what exactly is going on in TV right now, and some of the highly creative solutions it can provide (generally, WITH other media channels rather than as an alternative to them!).

So, my question to the big, global advertisers is this. Has TV really lost its sex appeal, or are you just looking for a younger model? Because we all know how those relationships usually end, don’t we?

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