J&J right to stay on the sidelines

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Johnson & Johnson should be commended for its decision to bow out of participating in this year's network TV upfront period.

For J&J, tabling its $500 million network TV marketing budget until it is ready to make media purchase decisions is a sound business move. Rather than commit dollars during an upfront period that doesn't coincide with its business-planning cycle, the marketer is choosing to spend its money when and where it can-in line with its own budgeting and planning timelines.

It's a move considered risky by some-J&J could end up paying much more for TV powerhouses such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy."

But it's only as risky as the value placed on TV as an advertising medium. And this year, the landscape of media options is sufficiently lush to finally dilute TV's dominance as king of the jungle. In last week's online poll, a majority of Advertising Age readers said they expect the emphasis on the digital marketplace will minimize advance purchasing. In fact, 73% of voters said they did not think this year's network TV upfront would top last year's $9.1 billion.

J&J, in fact, is already entering the thicket of alternative media platforms. It is a client of Interpublic Media, which is embarking on an unprecedented deal with TiVo through its Emerging Media Lab. But even before this opportunity, J&J had appeared on TiVo. Clearly, the marketer must be at least somewhat satisfied with its forays: According to people who have spoken with its executives, the company plans to shift 20% or more of its marketing budget to nontraditional media.

Certainly, followingJ&J's lead makes more sense for some marketers than others. Such decisions are subject to variables such as the time-sensitivity of certain offerings and new-product launches. But shouldn't those issues, rather than the media-selling system, be the deciding factors? And J&J's move can be interpreted as a show of a marketer's unwillingness to be strong-armed into being held to the networks' long-dominant timetable.

It's about time the marketers-those spending the money-made the networks dance to their tune, rather than the other way around.
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