Thursday 2 August 2007

Les Binet's Presentation

The Debate Result: Is the digital revolution killing TV advertising?

It was a night of battle that promised much in the way of fighting talk and swagger, but ended in hugs agreement rather than fisticuffs.

Les “fucking clever” Binet (a moniker applied by the evening’s chair, Rob Foreshaw), the diminutive genius of the planning industry squared up against Matt Dyke, his sort-of-colleague, to debate the statement “digital advertising is killing TV advertising”.

With over 70 in the audience for the evening, all baying for blood, the contest had all the hallmarks of a classic face-off.

Les kicked-off the debate by setting up and swatting down some of the received wisdoms of our industry, much-quoted by media pundits.

First up, the idea that people don’t watch TV any more: The IPA’s Touchpoints research putting-paid to that one, as viewing has held solid at 3.7 hours a day amongst all adults for the last three decades. Time spent viewing TV amongst teens has likewise barely changed in the past two generations, Les contends. Not only that, but commercial TV viewing has actually risen – as the BBC’s share of audience has fallen. Looking into the crystal ball, while delivery mechanisms might change, viewing will stay flat or rise.

Next up, the idea that audiences are fragmenting and that TV is therefore becoming less efficient went under the statistical microscope. And once again, Les waded into battle with his numbers, and, once again, came up on top. The price of media has fallen faster than the audiences have declined, the charts showed. The cost to reach 1,000 people is cheaper now than it has been in real terms, was the argument.

What we have seen, the argument went, is increased competition leading to lower prices – while that may be bad news for media owners, it is good news for advertisers and brands, Les argued: “TV has never been in ruder health” was the declaration from the stage. Once again looking to the future, he claimed, any ad-avoidance will likely be reflected in the price of media, so efficiency will not be compromised by such technologies.

So, by now somewhat PowerPoint-fatigued, we made it to the critical point of his argument: that there is no better medium than TV for conveying emotion, engaging audiences and getting brands talked about. This in cases where the creative is strong – at least.

Les pulled out the numbers from IPA Effectiveness papers to show that there has been a substantial increase over time in effectiveness where TV has been the lead medium. He argued that TV is the market in which a sales effect can be readily seen – unlike so many other channels of communication.

It is this ability to create a shared, low-involvement entertainment experience that the medium we think of as TV must preserve, Les said. The challenge he left us with was that, as the costs of media space fall, lowering barriers to entry, so the quality of advertising is likely to drop. Only real creativity will cut-through.

To make a reposte to this figures-laden attack, Matt took the podium to with an argument that had two key points. First, that “TV advertising is killing TV advertising” due to a dearth of quality. Second, that in a hyper-connected world, we all have a wealth of information at our fingertips about companies and products and that the power of brand image is diminished as shared knowledge and word-of-mouth take precedence.

In support of his first point, Matt pointed out that TV advertising has never been so despised: while 32% of people in 1991 agreed that “the ads are as good as the programmes”, just 15% did so last year. The dearth of quality is the biggest contributor to our “switching off” and loathing of interruption.

Consumers, he argued, love good brand ads and will actively seek them out, view, discuss and dissect them online. Marshalling an ad-land favourite to his aid in his argument, Matt pointed out that Honda’s “choir” work was viewed 3 million times online and much-debated. TV, he argued, is spending too much on frequency, not enough on quality.

When an ad is viewed online, he went on to claim, it is four-times more effective than an ad viewed on TV.

So, Matt surmised, TV advertising should be used to “seed” creative and emotional ideas, giving consumers the opportunity to turn to other media to engage further and explore on their own terms.

The second element of Matt’s argument was that of the decline in the power of the brand image. Where we once carried information and knowledge about brands, products and services around day-in, day-out, we now access it “on demand,” was his contention. Hence, those who come into a market for cars will turn to the web first in search of information and shared experience, denting the power of brand image and reducing its primacy.

No one new model will rise up to replace TV’s leadership, but rather, many models will take its place. At their heart will need to be an investment in experiences – engaging consumers in content rather than holding them at bay with glossy image. Matt concluded arguing that digital is killing all advertising – gradually stripping the marketing and spin away to leave authenticity, brands stripped bare and left to parade the internet for all to see.

The positions established, the Q&A kicked off. And it was through the probing of the audience that the poles came together.

The classic pieces of work in the digital environment, it was agreed, were spurred by traditional TV work – or by brand image.

From Pampers’ credibility to offer parents advice on childcare to Honda’s work stimulating a rush to the web to Sony’s ability to build a community of fans around its Bravia work, brand TV advertising has been a driver.

Both speakers had to conceded that, ultimately, they ended up in a position of agreement: that quality is where the investment needs to be made, rather than frequency. They may have disagreed about where the ultimate balance of power might lie between TV and digital, but came to the conclusion that one would be unlikely to wipe out the other wholly. As Les said at the end of the evening: “we didn’t really disagree, it’s all merging and complimentary”.