By Published on .

The question I have after hearing the four networks paid $100,000 each to sponsor a session at Association of National Advertisers' annual conference: Is that all?

That $100,000 wouldn't get an advertiser 30 seconds on any reasonably popular prime-time TV show, so why should the ANA settle for such a paltry sum? After all, the combined ad-buying power of the ANA members gathered in Laguna Niguel amounts to somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion, so I personally take it as a colossal insult that the advertiser group put such little value on their members' worth.

Let's take a closer look at what ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox got for their money. Three of the networks sponsored an entire morning's program, which amounted to a razzle-dazzle sales pitch for each of the networks. The fourth network, NBC, at first balked at paying the ANA tribute, but after the other three snapped up the opportunity NBC was relegated to sponsoring a poolside dinner on Sunday evening. And a lovely party it was-NBC spared no expense in bringing in a character actress in its hit show "Mad About You" to regale the group.

Since the meeting's theme was "Branding the Future," each of the networks had to pretend it was there as a bona fide brand of its own. Nobody pulled off this charade better than Fox. ANA Annual Conference News, a daily paper put out to keep members abreast of conference news, perpetuated the myth.

"The Fox Television Network will sponsor today's general session, imprinting the final day of the 1997 ANA Annual Conference with its own powerful and unique brand image," read the opening sentence of the news story on the program. "This session, it is Fox's turn to transform the Ritz-Carlton Ballroom into a working broadcast studio where veteran TV journalist Brit Hume, managing editor and chief correspondent of Fox News, will serve as host."

The Fox pitch was that, unlike the other networks, it was not there to sell the ANA's members on the merits of advertising on Fox. The previous day, the head of CBS-TV proclaimed "the diversity of who we are goes much further than our competitors, who take a much narrower approach." (Translation: We skew older, and we're proud of it. Welcome home.)

No, the Fox pitch was to assert that "traditional media is in a state of crisis." It's not enough, tv Fox TV chieftain Brit Hume said in a burst of refreshing candor, to advertise on network TV. What advertisers need to do is to "aggregate and integrate" their media by using everything from "the satellite in the sky to the shelf in the store"-by a coincidence media support that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. also has in its worldwide arsenal.

But what set the Fox presentation apart was the way Brit Hume next introduced an apparently renowned marketing consultant to give us searing insights into the brand revolution. Here, at last, was an objective analysis of the current state of marketing. My pen was poised to record his valuable thoughts.

What we got was further justification of the News Corp. strategy because it turned out that Mr. Murdoch was one of his clients. He talked profoundly of the "disappearance of the middle market as consumers streamline." In other words, consumers are narrowing their brand choices, and that includes their choice of TV networks.

"Rupert Murdoch didn't get into the TV business to be No. 4," the consultant confided. "There's only room for two sure-thing brands," he said, and can you believe it when I reveal to you that one of them was Fox?

Each network dragged out one of its star journalists to lend credence to the notion we were witnessing legitimate and unbiased discussion as they fearlessly interrogated their network bosses on why their particular network delivered the goods.

Please excuse me if I gag the next time one of these journalists preaches about the sacrosanct duties he or she has to dispense every day. What's really scary is how sincere and professional they appeared to be when they're grilling their bosses on the demographic superiority of their network's audience. If you didn't know better, you'd think they were interviewing heads of state.

Advertisers feel most comfortable when they're able to control the environment surrounding their ads, and ANA members must have felt they got their money's worth by watching attack-dog journalists shill for their network bosses. By asking sincere, weighty questions about the future of branding, the network pundits made advertisers feel their jobs were important.

So the advertisers got a lot of satisfaction, no doubt about it, but the networks must have felt like they hit the jackpot by hoodwinking the ANA into

Most Popular