Are we seeing a resurgence of TV advertising?

At the recent TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards and then at the Effies, we saw Mercury emerge as the big winner, on both occasions, with its ‘Mercury – making energy more wonderful’ campaign. It’s notable that these two events, both with a heavy focus on business results, chose a TV-led campaign as the overall winner.

This feels a bit like a turning point in that it serves as an evidence-based reminder that television still works – and is especially effective when it’s backed by strong creative that makes the most of its audio and visual power.

Starcom CEO Alistair Jamison argues that we’ve perhaps lost sight of this due to the steady stream of inaccurate opinion on the state of television.    

“I think there is a reasonable amount of mis-information around TV, in many cases propagated by other media who perhaps don’t have a TV offer,” he says.

Paul Catmur

Jamison also thinks it is easy to confuse the effectiveness of TV with changing viewing behaviour. “It is undeniable that audiences have shifted and declined but relative to other channels it still delivers reach, cost-effectiveness and impact. TV still remains a very effective and powerful channel through which to reach Kiwis.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Barnes, Catmur & Friends Dentsu CEO Paul Catmur who says: “TV obviously doesn’t have the audience it once did. But neither does digital have the efficacy that it claims. It’s important to remember that media usage is not the same as media efficiency: people spend a lot of time gazing at their inner eyelids, but that doesn’t make them a great place to put ads.”

Rufus Chuter, managing director of FCB Media, contends media channel selection is always based on the specific audience and business objectives.

Rufus Chuter

“It isn’t a case of having ‘first choice’ media,” he says. “What’s clear is that TV remains a hugely valuable platform for delivering emotive content with the scale, impact and effective frequency required to create meaningful business impact.”

In recent times, the ‘pro digital’ advertisers in New Zealand have suggested that mass advertising (including TV) is inefficient and full of wastage and that marketing today is all about the right message, in the right place, at the right time. Direct Marketing at scale, so to speak.

Meanwhile the ‘anti-digital side’ believe digital advertising is guilty of spurious numbers and spurious models of marketing and is the online version of the tactical retail stuff from your letterbox that you put straight in the bin.

The general consensus is that there needs to be a mix, with TV as a core component. Jamison subscribes to the school of thought that it’s all about balance and what is right for the individual client and their need within budget.

“TV is a mass channel, that is one of its strengths, and sometimes we want to talk to a shit load of people, and TV can do that,” he says. But Jamison also asserts that digital can deliver precision. “That is a strength, and in my mind, the two play nicely together.”

Warring factions

The battle between digital and traditional has been something of a war and some agencies and clients have relied too heavily on short-term measurement. Indeed, Effies international judge, Chris Baker, expounded on the harmfulness of short-term thinking.

According to Catmur, short-term measurement has been an issue ever since companies became owned by shareholders and ruled under the tyranny of the quarterly figures.

There is a growing appreciation of long-term messaging, in large part driven off the back of the likes of Peter Field as well as some of the large global players openly questioning some of their previous ‘digital above all else’ statements and approaches.

“This naturally plays to TV’s strengths,” Jamison says. “Personally I am not sure that the short-term measurement is anything to do with digital versus traditional as opposed to the fact that post-GFC (in particular) a lot of clients moved their focus to short-term, tactical initiatives and so measurement naturally followed.”

A balancing act 

It is quickly becoming apparent that short-term measurement is easy, but longer-term measurement is hard. In this context, brands need to remember to focus on building the brand long-term as well as achieve short-term results.

How are advertising agencies in New Zealand doing in this respect? “We try, but it’s an uphill battle,” admits Catmur.

“I do think TV’s share of voice is re-balancing across the industry,” says Chuter. “It’s an irony that the relationship between share of voice and share of market – something marketers have long championed – may have been playing out in the marketing industry itself. The two dominant digital players (Facebook and Google) have done an incredible job of marketing themselves to marketers, but recent work by the likes of TVNZMediaworks and Comms Council, (and hopefully the revival of ThinkTV), have succeeded in redressing that share of voice.”

Simon Bird

In his StopPess feature, Simon Bird, group strategy director at PHD, maintains that over the past few years in advertising, media and marketing, it has felt that there has been somewhat of a civil war going on – “a pretty constant battle between art and science, creative and big data, digital and traditional, mass and targeted, salience and optimised, and emotion and information.”

Media analyst professor Mark Ritson has written extensively (and talked aggressively) about recent studies that have shown those working in media tend to live in bubbles removed from the general populace and over-index in digital media consumption. This often results in media types incorrectly presuming that their media habits are the norm.

Cool vs effective

The question remains: “Are a number of media executives making decisions based on what’s cool rather than what works?

 “Perhaps at other agencies, but not ours!” exclaims FCB’s Chuter. “However we mustn’t confuse intelligent testing of new opportunities with chasing fads. When something’s new, you have to test it to work out whether it works.”

Of course, some clients demand ‘cool’ and there is no denying that with ad agencies populated with young people who don’t read magazines or watch as much free-to-air TV, there’s an unrealistic drive towards digital solutions to advertising problems.

This poses the question of whether local agencies are succeeding in convincing clients and indeed their own staff that TV is still a worthwhile medium in which to spend advertising budgets.

Jamison doesn’t think there is an unrealistic drive towards digital, as he thinks the younger members of his team add great value in terms of bringing the voice of younger New Zealanders to their solutions but that this balanced by more experienced team members.

“I think it is also worth noting that this is a not a new problem,” he says. “Twenty years ago, media owners were concerned that young media planners didn’t consume their product.”

Jamison says that although the share of spend that TV represents in the agency today has declined over the past three or four years, the channel remains strong.

 “I think most clients still know that TV is important,” says Jamison. “They just occasionally need the support for that story. We spend a lot of time talking landscape with our clients and I think most understand the relativities and as a result the worthwhileness of TV is not often questioned. Sometimes the feasibility of TV is questioned, but rarely the strength of it as a communications channel.”

And as long as TV remains strong enough to power a brand like Mercury into the New Zealand consciousness, it will continue to remain relevant to marketers.     

This story is part of a content partnership with Freeview.

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