TV doesn't die, it just changes form

If advertising had a first law it would be this: TV doesn't die, it just changes form.

Advertising and PR are being forced closer together, whether they like it or not, writes Mark Lowe
Advertising and PR are being forced closer together, whether they like it or not, writes Mark Lowe

According to the latest WARC data, quarterly TV spend just topped £1bn for the first time, a figure made all the more remarkable if you reread two decades' worth of predictions that the internet would kill TV advertising.

Instead campaigns are now reaching beyond the small screen to become fully fledged cultural events, as VCCP and adam&eveDDB proved with their work for ComparetheMarket and John Lewis respectively.

A TV ad is, to use a vogueish phrase, the ultimate piece of short-form content.

For advertising’s vocal band of digital sceptics, TV’s success is the big story of the industry.

It proves that all the rubbish about ‘digital engagement’ was just that and that advertising should stick with its 80-year-old business model.

But for me TV’s resilience is a clearer manifestation of another trend that could yet upend that model – the convergence of PR and advertising.

In the 80s and 90s, the two disciplines had a sort of parent-child relationship.

The ad men did their thing and the PR firm was brought in a few days before the campaign went live to write a press release about it, or maybe a stage a stunt. This was called ‘amplification’.

The one area where advertising and PR worked in tandem was politics, where ads were often deployed for free media alone. Saatchi & Saatchi built its business on this approach.

In the commercial world, which lacked the white heat of politics and where the campaign cycle was measured in years rather than days, ‘buzz’ was viewed as a helpful by-product of success but the motor of any campaign was the media spend, which could be roughly correlated with audience impact.

These assumptions ruled well after the arrival of the internet which, as in many other industries, has wrought change that is more incremental than radical. But change has come and it affects the basic economics of what we do.

It’s now unusual for a marketing director to issue a campaign brief without reference to a brand’s potential ‘fame’ and TV ads are valued more than ever for their ability to create free publicity, particularly through social media discussion.

This means that every pound of media money is spent with a view to earning another, with decisions based on predictive proof rather than gut instinct.

The result is that advertising and PR are being forced closer together.

In the agency world, this convergence takes many forms. Agencies are collaborating much earlier on campaign planning, poaching staff and raiding each other’s natural territory.

The prize is to be recognised as a ‘creative agency’, a title that will no longer be given to advertisers by default.

Mark Lowe is the co-founder of Third City

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