Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Don’t give up on the big idea

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast October 27, 2011

Digital success depends on achieving cut-through, says Kate Bulkley.

The next big idea has always been sine qua non in TV – but its allure is not just confined to programming. Advertisers see ideas as key too, and the allure of technology – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and check-in service Foursquare – has rocked the big ideas boat in adland.

In fact, the ad industry now talks about Silicon Valley and the likes of Apple and Facebook driving the advertising conversation, not the Mad Men of New York. The ad market is changing, with big growth in online video consumption and digital ad spend. The latter is up 12.8 % across Europe so far in 2011 compared with an increase of only 2.9% on TV ad spend, according to IHS Screen Digest.

Websites and social media interaction will be an important pathway to increased ad revenue for TV firms in 2012. But at The Guardian’s Changing Advertising Summit last week, the likes of Kraft, Coca-Cola, Aviva and Mars agreed that mechanical, digital-inspired detailing is nothing without the big idea.

Pepsi got so excited about social media in 2010 that it pulled its TV ad for the Super Bowl – the biggest US TV event of the year. It diverted well over $20m (£12.5m) into social media in the Pepsi Refresh Project, which attracted 80 million votes, 60,000 Twitter followers and 3.5 million Facebook ‘likes’. But by early this year, the numbers were in: Pepsi and Diet Pepsi had between them lost about 5% of their market share, reportedly equivalent to $400m (£250m) in lost sales.

Kraft Foods spends $1bn (£625m) a year on marketing, and European vice-president of marketing Daryl Fielding said technology has become like fashion trends. “I think Foursquare is this year’s ‘it’ bag. We need big ideas to transcend the marketing channels because execution is not enough.” Kraft is testing a consumer journey tool to get to grips with the “loyalty loop” of its customers on digital and non-digital platforms.

At Coke, new emphasis is being put on “content excellence” over “creative excellence”, said Jonathan Mildenhall, vice-president of global advertising strategy and excellence. “Advertisers need a lot more content so they can keep engagement with consumers fresh and relevant because of the 24/7 connectivity.”

The refrain seemed to be: beware abandoning the 30-second TV spot and the big idea. “Digital is an opportunity on top of the robustness of TV adverts,” chimed in Fru Hazlitt, managing director of commercial and online for ITV, as she unveiled yet another ad format – this one where the Yeo Valley farmyard boy band song can be downloaded on iTunes and ‘liked’ and shared.

Launched during The X Factor on 8 October, it had attracted only 1,134 ‘likes’ on FB more than two weeks later. But does that mean it didn’t work? Not necessarily, and Hazlitt seemed eager to “cook something up” with the brands in terms of innovative ad formats.

The threat of a double-dip recession is already showing up in ITV’s share price – down 19% since the beginning of the year – and with slimmer budgets, it’s unclear how innovative brands will be. But it seems clear that even with less money to work with, agencies, broadcasters and producers are going to be looking for the big ideas that somehow cut through.

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