The Myopia of the 2020 Vision: Why we need a whole load more rational when we debate the merits of Television

Think TV, a marketing initiative of Free TV Australia (the body representing all of Australia’s free-to-air metropolitan and regional commercial television broadcasters), have released the latest in their 2020 Vision series. the episode – the first of series three – see’s industry heavy-weights including Jeff Goodby (Goodby, Silverstein and Partners) and Sir John Hegarty (BBH) discuss (in Think TV’s words) “the importance of broadcasting powerful, mass reaching, messages that connect with audiences”.

its a curious beast. but then communications about communications are always the most interesting of creatures … on the surface this is a straight-forward and very well produced piece of content which talks-up the role and power of TV. but take a closer look and a rather all-too defensive agenda emerges:

some highlights:

TV is till 60% of what we buy because it absolutely is the best place to be able to tell stories and connect people with your brand” … “we try to use video and television as a way to understand our customer … television is the only place you can do that” Kevin Mayer (Volkswagen of America Inc)

“the use of television is fundamental in telling a brand story and engaging with the audience in an intriguing and interesting way” Sir John Hegarty

“the great thing about TV … is that it allows you to go around the rational objections to a product … you have to find another emotional road to take people along so that they don’t think about the rational stuff anymore” Jeff Goodby

“if you’ve got the funding to do an ad, [TV is] still the one place you can get the biggest change in perception and appeal for your brand” Kevin Mayer

“there are two things brands have to do; they have to persuade and then they have to promote. digital technology has been brilliant at promotion, but if you’re not out there persuading, you’re not growing your brand … now, you can only do that with broadcast, because you don’t ultimately know where your audience is going to come from” Sir John Hegarty

“advertising expenditure globally is about $500bn a year. about $200bn of that goes on television. now, end of argument, alright?” Sir John Hegarty

“most of the money my clients spend is still on TV. I know that its very popular to think otherwise and go, you know, ‘what’s going on out there, there must be new things that we should be spending money on’ … and we end up spending on TV, just because it turns out to be the way to start something, the way to keep something going, the way to chance people’s minds” Jeff Goodby

“actually the internet kind of operates as an afterthought of the best TV commercials … people run to the internet to talk about them” Jeff Goodby

“as television evolves and becomes more targeted, I think you’re going to see an influx of dollars back into television because now you’re going to have efficiency and you’re going to have scale, and that’s where I think television is going to really see its second coming” Kevin Mayer

“we’re emotional creatures, and television is an emotional medium … it’s the most powerful selling tool advertisers have ever had at their disposal, and that ain’t changing – not for the foreseeable future” Sir John Hegarty

to say that some of those statements are subjective in the extreme is perhaps a bit of an understatement, and you could argue that’s fine if the piece was presenting itself as the subjective opinions of very respected industry professionals … but its not; Think TV’s description of the piece is “forward-thinking industry professionals reveal how television is rising to meet new marketing challenges with great success” (source) … which I actually think gets us into rather dangerous territory … because the success is pretty much ‘people saw my ad’, or ‘we emotionally engaged people’ or ‘lot’s of people spend lots of money on TV so it must work, alright’ …

now it’s easy to say that it’s “just a piece of video” or conversely that “these are the opinions of respected, and very successful, advertising men”, but don’t forget for a second this is just one grenade in an ongoing battle for communications revenues. this is about where brands invest marketing dollars – budgets that are increasingly under scrutiny by the companies that invest that money. and we’re not talking about spare change … the video’s own stats point out that $200bn is spent on TV – I think we’re going to have to do a little better to justify that than because television is “an emotional medium”.

it perhaps is no co-incidence that we receive this gem in the same week that online ad revenues overtook those for free-to-air TV. according to a report by the PwC for the AIB, (available to subscribers here), for the first six months of 2013 our industry in Australia invested $1,883m in online versus $1,805m investment in FTA TV.

the size of your spend isn’t of course everything. but it does count for a lot.

I like television. as a planner I value the role television can play in a plan. it delivers reach, often cost-effectively, and it delivers that scale quickly. and whilst, unlike Kevin Mayer, I probably wouldn’t describe the future of television as a “second coming”, I am excited by the opportunities that critical mass in connected TVs will bring.

but there’s a dangerous myopia in this 2020 Vision. statements like “digital technology has been brilliant at promotion, but if you’re not out there persuading, you’re not growing your brand” (Hegarty) or “the internet kind of operates as an afterthought” Goodby, do far less for TV’s case than embracing and exploring – say – the possibilities presented by digital storytelling and how they will be possible, with scale, in 2020 would have achieved.

a very wise man once told be to never let my strategy show. so when a video selling the benefits of TV says that “the great thing about TV … is that it allows you to go around the rational objections to a product … so that they don’t think about the rational stuff anymore” … I wonder whether we don’t need a whole load more rational as we mediate this ongoing debate.

featured image is a still from the above video of Volkswagen’s Darth Vader spot in Super Bowl XLV

One response to “The Myopia of the 2020 Vision: Why we need a whole load more rational when we debate the merits of Television

  1. Great piece Chris. There are many rational and empirically robust reasons and a body of data to support television in a potential channel mix (at the very least tracking and econometrics). Truisms and sweeping statements about the efficiacy and relevancy of a particular channel by exponents with a vested interest definitley do not add anything to the debate.

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