In the televison “upfront” selling frenzy, TV networks and media buying agencies are in collusion, seducing weak-minded advertising executives with raw hucksterism. Jon Fine describes the scam brilliantly:
This is all very old-school stuff: vaudevillian dazzle, copious applications of food and alcohol to lubricate the ad spigots, a frenzy of dealmaking primarily compressed into several days in one city. And all the more so in a TiVo’d, rapidly digitizing world. But the upfront ritual keeps chugging along, and the advertisers keep buying it. If you expect an imminent earthquake in TV spending to shake this year’s upfronts — well, stop. Even though the rites come amid a steady string of digital TV initiatives and the onward march of digital-video-recorder use, the nastiest thing people will say about the event is that dollars may drop slightly.
The media buying agencies are the self-interested hucksters:
The 30-second spot, maligned as it is, “still works, despite TiVo and clutter,” says Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at media-buying firm Carat North America. “[Let's] stop talking about how the upfront is broken. It works for clients, it works for networks, and it works for agencies.”
“I see TV budgets holding,” says Heather MacPherson, a managing director of ad giant Ogilvy & Mather. “Most of the shift [to the Web] is coming out of print.”
And advertisers are their suckers:
“Overall, we are thinking flat,” says Betsy Lazar, who as executive director of advertising and marketing operations for General Motors (GM ) oversees one of the nation’s largest ad budgets.
The online ad market may be poised to swell impressively this year (Merrill Lynch (MER ) analyst Lauren Fine — no relation — just upped her estimate for Internet ad spending this year, saying it will rise 28.7%, to $16.2 billion), but it remains a fraction of the $53.9 billion total that advertisers spent on TV last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
A recent Arbitron media study found that “40 percent of Americans, forced to choose, would ditch their television in favor of the Internet.”
And as Fine observes:
Clear threats to its effectiveness continue to multiply. Even media-buying executives who vigorously defend it nonetheless say a TiVo-led implosion is coming, in as soon as two to five years. But when so many people who control the purse strings continue to extol the virtues of TV advertising, it makes you wonder.
There’s no need to wonder — this isn’t about advertising effectiveness and increasing sales. This is about pure economic self-interest and a willingness to go to any lengths to convince everyone in the room that the emperor still has clothes on.
The only hope is that shareholders at some of the major corporate advertisers start to wake up and ask why so much money is being dumped into a medium that fewer people are watching, that is more and more subject to technology-enable ad skipping, and that has never, in any case, been able to measure effectiveness or any economic return whatsoever.