Don't bet against TV ads: They're still seen as safest

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While the call to arms for marketers to look beyond the 30-second commercial is becoming more and more strident, Comcast is ready to plunk down over $50 billion to buy Disney and the ABC Television Network.

Does Comcast know something big marketers like Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and American Express don't-namely that TV will continue to be the most dominant and safest ad buy in spite of rhetoric to the contrary?

Otherwise, what's the point of Comcast's trying to fix ABC if network television's time has come and gone? And don't kid yourself into thinking the cable company is willing to borrow all that money for Disney's movie business (except as fodder for TV) and theme parks. It wants TV content, to go along with its distribution facilities, so Comcast management must think commercial TV is still the best game in town.

Marketers are singing a different tune. "We need to adapt to the new landscape," contended John Hayes, CMO of American Express, at our Madison + Vine conference, "by not thinking in dayparts but mindparts. Not catching up to change but helping make change happen." Mr. Hayes said that AmEx's TV spending has gone from 80% of its total budget 10 years ago to 35% today.

But there's a major roadblock in the way of this brave new world: return on investment. Marketers are just getting the hang of evaluating the worth of separate media, but for the most part throw up their hands when asked to figure out the worth of several at the same time. "We can't quantify the inter-relationship," said a panelist at the Association of National Advertisers' confab last fall.

And that's the rub. As P&G's Jim Stengel said at the American Association of Advertis-ing Agencies' media conference, over-reliance on TV is just one issue. "There's another phenomenon occurring-a real blurring of media that happens because consumers' lives are so busy that multitasking has become a way of life. How do we capture the impact of these kind of interactions?"

Mr. Stengel said that the traditional marketing model is "obsolete." Holistic marketing, he declared, is driving our business-"but we're going along somewhat reluctantly and blindly. We have not found a way to measure the effectiveness of these new approaches. Our industry is in desperate need of new tools for measurement."

Ironically it's this very desperation that will eventually keep most marketers in TV. They are just getting to the point where their top management accepts that awareness, attentiveness, incremental volume per 100 GRPs of spending and the like can be used to measure the effectiveness of TV advertising. Why should they risk losing their credibility by not being able to prove the effectiveness of concerts in the park or product placements?

Of course, they might say the worth of promotional events could be measured by actual results. At General Motors for instance, it's all about "quality of impressions" made on consumers at events that get them into GM cars. Since last June, GM sold 190,000 cars and trucks to prospects in its 24-Hour Test Drive Program-a 35% close rate.

The question remains, however, whether "quality of impressions" can be used not only to measure results but also to build brand equity. After all, short-term results are not what marketers are seeking in the long run.

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