Blue Jays baseball and some blunt talk

Reprinted from the October Association of Canadian Advertisers newsletter.I know you probably don't want to hear this. I'm sure you'd rather be watching the Blue Jays try to win their second World Series. But we've got to talk.This recent election advertising...

Reprinted from the October Association of Canadian Advertisers newsletter.

I know you probably don’t want to hear this. I’m sure you’d rather be watching the Blue Jays try to win their second World Series. But we’ve got to talk.

This recent election advertising controversy points out the need for some honest reassessment on the part of advertisers. It’s about time we admit this: we may be hooked on TV.

Every year, like addicts, we search out the reps for that fix of television that we seem to need so desperately. Every year the price goes up; every year we have to find more money to pay for it. This year, it’s gone too far.

Not only has the price gone up once again, but they’ve cut the product strength now (with sugar coating) and diluted its power and kick.

I’m talking of course about the broadcasters’ latest move in convincing the [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] to let them count all political ads this election as ‘program time’ and, therefore, not as part of the usual 12-minutes-per-hour of commercial time.

This will create unnecessary clutter on tv this fall.

Advertisers and their agencies try to measure and mix their ad campaign solutions very carefully, creating just the right potency to etch their messages on the consumer’s mind.

Broadcasters have just added more water to the solution. The strength has been weakened, your spots cannot possibly work as hard as you had intended, and you are still expected to pay the same price for them.

I’m sure it must be tempting for broadcasters. They see how newspapers and magazines simply add extra pages and extra ads come their way. To be fair, there is probably at least a little bit of this behind their recent move.

But the tv medium is already way over the line. A completely valid comparison is probably not possible, but consider this.

Using a 30-second tv unit and a full-page ad as rough equivalencies, where a tv station runs about 500 30-second spots a day, The Globe and Mail would have to run about 500 pages of ads each day, Maclean’s magazine 3,500 pages each week and Saturday Night magazine an unbelievable 14,000 full-page ads each month, just to reach parity.

This situation is not good news for the long-term health of the Canadian broadcasting system either.

It is just this kind of temporary clutter that will drive viewers to sample the non-commercial tv alternatives that are available to them such as pbs, tvo, pay-per-view, The Movie Channel, and so on.

Advertisers contribute the bulk of the funding to the to the broadcasting system in Canada – about $2 billion a year – and it surely is the ultimate sleight for broadcasters to try to play it fast and loose with our investments.

If viewers find something they like elsewhere, both broadcasters and advertisers will suffer permanent damage.

Finally, this controversy is only the latest of three still unresolved issues that advertisers have had to take up with broadcasters recently.

The first was electronic audience measurement, where Canada stands as the one remaining country in the developed world that still sells the bulk of its tv time on antiquated paper diary research.

Broadcasters continue to dither on this issue, and will probably do so until we convince them that it is directly linked to something they understand and cherish: their cash flow.

The second is the issue of dual liability wherein broadcasters insist on retaining the ‘joint and several’ legal language in their contracts with their customers, placing advertisers at risk of having to pay twice for their airtime.

And now, this.

Yes, some reassessment is long overdue by advertisers.

tv is our medium, too, and decisions (and indecisions) like these only serve to further devalue it and our products and services as well.

The time may have come for us to admit we have a problem, and begin thinking about how we can kick this nasty habit.

The Senators hockey team may be the model in Ottawa (wink!wink!), but in this baseball-crazy town, everyone knows that after three strikes….

Go Jays!