TV Advertising Is Dead. Long Live TV Advertising. Part I of II

By Mark Wills, the Founder of the Audacious Group, a Branding Consultancy. Mark has been working in advertising for 20+ years at companies including Saatchi & Saatchi, Coca-Cola and Ogilvy & Mather. 

A couple of news stories caught my eye recently.

The first was the now familiar tale that TV advertising is failing to reach its intended audiences. Using figures from Nielsen and Kantar Media, ad targeting company Simulmedia has found that in many cases as many as three-quarters of marketers’ TV ad impressions are viewed by just 20 per cent of their target audiences.

The second was the tragic death of prolific director Tony Scott. From movies to TV to commercials, Tony Scott was a true master of the film making craft.

You may wonder how those two stories are connected? Well, reading of Tony Scott’s passing reminded me of a legendary commercial he shot back in 2000, for the equally legendary London advertising agency, Legas Delaney. The TV commercial for Barclays Bank, featuring fellow Welshman Sir Anthony Hopkins, was called ‘BIG’ – http://vimeo.com/4172601. This was part of a celebrity campaign – that also included Tim Roth – espousing the rather blunt message that when it came to banking, bigger was better. It should be noted that this was at a time when banking online was still in its infancy and the message of size was designed to build trust. Wow, they thought about trust back then – who would have known that today?

Although this film was beautifully written, with a commanding performance and exquisite production value, I respectfully have to doff my cap to the shortcomings of this campaign. This includes its rather unfortunate timing – it aired in the midst of Barclays cutting their number of high street branches. And the rather dubious assumption that the scale of an institution is somehow proportionate to its trustworthiness. We’ve since learned that painful lesson time and again.

These two stories make me think about the power of BIG ideas – for brands and business – and how they are best delivered to customers, clients or consumers. 

What’s the BIG idea?

Let’s start with BIG ideas. As Legas Delaney penned so beautifully in Hopkins’s script:  “What is this about big? You know, seeing the big picture, having the big idea, clinching the big deal. Nobody wants to clinch the little deal. Who wants to do that? You’d be a little-deal clincher, a small shot.”

What marketer wants to be credited with having small ideas? Small ideas certainly won’t cut through the clutter of messages that we’re bombarded with each day. Small ideas won’t stand out in a world where we are overwhelmed with the over-choice of ‘me too’ products and services. Small ideas won’t engage consumers when they have instant control over what they see and read with a cursory finger swipe or keystroke.

So what is a BIG idea? Well, a successful BIG idea isn’t defined by the mere sum of its parts. From a communications point of view, simply stacking one tactic on top of another does not a BIG idea make. There’s an inherent danger when resorting to a tick box, cookie cutter approach to building a communications plan. All marketers need to remember the difference between a set of preordained tactics and an insight-driven coherent strategy with resulting actions.

That said, a BIG idea can come from humble beginnings – a simple insight. In fact, making something simple – rather than simplistic – is at the heart of all successful BIG ideas. BIG ideas help us make sense of lots of confusing experiences and seemingly isolated facts and events. They allow us to see what could be an overwhelming group of unconnected things with greater clarity. They’re not just a vague notion, or another piece of information. They act more like a lens that brings into focus the bigger picture, rather than just showing yet another detail.

Audacious group was recently engaged by a global and truly iconic consumer brand. At the briefing we discussed the rather expected desire to create a BIG idea that would ‘drive brand reappraisal and build social relevance’. But we were asked to deliver our thinking in a rather unexpected, or should I say ‘old school’, way – a television campaign.

We found this to be an enlightened approach. It forced us not to confuse the wonderful proliferation of ways to engage with our audiences, with the primary objective of maniacally focusing our attentions on the potency of the BIG idea. Our client’s rather quaint request that we deliver the initial BIG idea in the format of old media TV, now seemed very progressive. Of course we would blow out our thinking to effectively engage with consumer in all the strategically appropriate areas. But only after we had proved the BIG idea, in it’s purest form, through TV.