Media Neutrality: A point of view (October 2002)
Taken from a meeting with an ad agency I worked with recently: The creative brief I had given was perfectly simple. The client could afford a limited campaign on TV but we would have to rely on press for the donkey work. Therefore I requested press ideas back from which a TV campaign could be developed. I’d wasted enough days wading through TV scripts that patently couldn’t be turned into press so just this once could we start with a press idea? The creative team came to present the work. No press just scripts. I reiterated the original brief. Like a stuck record. Where are the press ads? The copywriter said – “It’s just the way we work. We always start with TV and work from there”. When they had made their exit promising press adapts for the next meeting I asked the account exec if we should perhaps speak to the creative director about it. She looked embarassed, “He IS the creative director”
What price media neutrality? The idea has come from the Royal Mail desperate to be a proper media owner and to get direct mail taken seriously alongside the big 5. And it certainly strikes a chord with clients who know they’ve been taken to the cleaners for years by agencies intent on glam and glory at the awards schemes and generous margins on production bills. But why should they believe us?
They shouldn’t and they can’t. Agencies are run by creative people or people who like to work with creative people. They are not run by business people. Business people could cope with a system that provided a standard mark-up for everything. Creative people can’t. And it’s not just about TV either. Away from TV and press you won’t find a creative team start with an idea then express it in a neutral format. They will always ground it in a communication format. And direct mail, sales promotion, the web, sponsorship: none of these figure as places where great ideas start. Not that they can’t. But that creatives in so called creative agencies can’t conceive of promoting anything unless it is in expensive paid for media. Whether or not anyone watches it. Or whether it is ludicrously overpriced.
If you want media neutrality to work then you need to have a level playing field. Financially and creatively. It must be possible to as big a salary increase for winning a campaign DM gold as a campaign TV Gold. Otherwise its a case of Honest guv. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can’t turn agency people into accountants. They’re childish, prejudiced and talented. They are blatantly biassed towards certain media.
Personally I’m all in favour of banning media neutrality. I don’t want media that media sales (or consumers) for that matter feel neutral about. There’s far too much media out there as it is. Does the Times really want to be considered dispassionately alongside the Mirror as a delivery mechanism? Perish the thought.
As brands become media in their own right, the way to grow brand value is to increase the differences between your audience and the rest and the reasons why they consume your brand. Common denominators make for an easy life for media sales. The most powerful brands are distinctive. And they have distinctive core groups of customers. Who aren’t all the same. And are anything but neutral. Neutrality can only be maintained by constructing artificially tying media together like currencies. And it won’t hold up for very long.