Item: The National Football League decides to switch networks and double the cost of TV rights. Collectively ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN ante up $17 billion to get the business. Advertisers will be expected to cover just about all that cost. But did anybody ask the advertisers?
Item: NBC, which for possibly all the right reasons opted out of NFL football, now really needs to hold on to the No. 1 prime-time show. So they decide to pay $13 million per episode for "ER." . . . So everybody at NBC gets a nice raise at the advertisers' expense . . . unfortunately without any "upfront" input from the advertisers.
Item: The final episode of "Seinfeld" asks $2 million per 30-second spot -- $66,666 per second! And who's expected to pay for it? You got it -- the advertisers.
You could argue I've picked only the most outlandish examples. Sadly, not so. Over the past four years as TV audiences have eroded, advertisers' network prime-time costs have increased at double-digit levels annually . . .
In an editorial in its April 6 issue, Advertising Age pointed out the Big Four broadcast networks added more than 1,100 commercial and network promotional units in prime time alone during the first 10 weeks of the 1997-98 season. That was on top of the 2,100 units they added in the 1996-97 season . . . The conclusion of the editorial was, "It's time advertisers speak up, and TV network managers should apply the brakes before clutter gets even more out of hand."
Well, I for one am speaking up . . . To us as advertisers, the rising costs and increased clutter are making the position of the networks pretty clear. They're forcing us to re-evaluate how we use network TV. It seems as if they're in business to help actors, producers, athletes, owners, leagues and themselves all get richer . . . because they believe we, the compliant advertisers, are going to pay for it.
But even though we're paying customers, the networks don't give us input into these very expensive decisions . . .
THE CONSUMER REVOLUTION
Unlike the advertisers, consumers started a revolution of their own a long time ago. It's the information revolution.
What's happening is customers are making new demands. They want to control what information they get, how they get it and where they get it. Traditional channels of mass marketing simply cannot provide them with that level of control.
In order for companies such as Chrysler Corp. to best serve our customers, we have to take full advantage of this information revolution, too. We have to develop ways of communicating that make our owners and prospects think positively about us and our products.
And that may not be possible in a 30-second spot, buried among scores of other 30-second spots -- even if they are within the final episode of "Seinfeld."
With more TV channels, and more and better advertising and marketing opportunities available to us, advertisers owe it to themselves to show their products and build their brands in places where they can have the greatest impact and control. There are new alternatives where we can eliminate some of the clutter on our own and create more of an emotional bond between our customers and our products.
Of course, we can't and we shouldn't just walk away from network TV, especially when we have new products to launch. Cars and trucks are visual products, and we need TV to advertise them.
But when it comes time to speak directly to our most valuable customers . . . we owe it to ourselves, and to them, to provide information via other media that will actually help them make their buying decisions. For advertisers there are all kinds of new opportunities to explore. And, after all, even Jerry Seinfeld knows when it's time to explore new opportunities.
Mr. Liebler is VP-marketing, Chrysler Corp. His comments were excerpted from remarks he delivered to the Automotive News Marketing Seminar in April.