PAUL HOLMES: PR is failing to capitalize on the opportunity presented by a general weakness in TV ads

Ad agencies and their clients are spending record sums - estimated at around $9.5 billion - to buy commercial time in the new television season, according to reports in the advertising trade press.

Ad agencies and their clients are spending record sums - estimated at around $9.5 billion - to buy commercial time in the new television season, according to reports in the advertising trade press.

What makes that figure particularly surprising is that advertising-industry experts are more or less united in their opinion that the new shows stink for the most part. As Stuart Elliott wrote in The New York Times, "The only show expected to achieve spectacular status is Whoopi.... But its achievement will be of the failing kind, the forecasters say, according the show the dubious distinction of being the most likely to be canceled before the other 35." It's no secret that network ratings have been in decline for most of the past decade, a trend that's not likely to be reversed by Fox's Skin, NBC's Miss Match, or CBS' Two and a Half Men. It's no secret that more and more viewers are skipping the commercials and that most of the others either ignore them or can't remember what they're selling. One of the few current ads to hold my attention features a young boy building a downhill racer to the strains of The Who's Happy Jack. It's a terrific ad - the kid beats all of the sleek, streamlined carts by cutting across the fields rather than taking the windy road. I assume it's for an SUV or a truck, but I have no idea which one. Then again, after watching a guy throw a football through a tire swing, I assumed Levitra was an arthritis drug until my wife told me it was actually a competitor to Viagra, so who knows? In any event, what we see with today's TV ads is a massive collective failure of imagination by America's marketers, who still can't think of any better way to spend their millions of dollars than by throwing them into a dying medium, a strategy that killed off the dot-com category in two short years. You want more evidence of failure of imagination, take a look at the new McDonald's campaign. After the appalling Chicken Man and the dissonant We Love to See You Smile ads (did anyone really feel like McDonald's servers cared whether they smiled or not?) we now have the faux hip-hop effort I'm Loving (sorry, Lovin'?) It. Not only do the lyrics sound like they were written by a committee of 30-something white guys, but the message is one of spectacular hubris: Why are they telling me how much I love their products? Given the state of advertising, shouldn't PR be in line for a larger share of the marketing dollar? And ultimately, isn't the fact that advertising maintains its preeminence an indication of just how badly we've failed to prove our relevance?
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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