All-day TV was a ‘sticky’ experience

More than 700 people attend three-session show at Olympia to put TV’s new marketing body on map

Attending the Thinkbox Experience in Olympia last week was rather like experiencing media history repeating itself, and not for the better as far as physical comfort was concerned.

With three sessions drawing more than 700 people, the gathering had an air of a hot, sticky cattle market about it, which was hardly conducive to two-way debate – hence the lack of questions. Still, since TV measures itself by bums on seats, I suppose this was a successful result.

Those of us with a little background in the sector may remember that on 14 May, 2002, ITV staged a conference for advertisers and agencies called Television Matters, with an identical purpose – "to ignite your interest in television".

The argument then for hiring the old Billingsgate market in the City, inviting along speakers ranging from Tesco's Tim Mason to Princess Anne, was that never had the market been so competitive, so now was the time to start proving "how salient and effective television can be".

That conference, far glitzier and elitist than the workaday, hard-sell Thinkbox event, was never followed up by a broader coalition drawing in other channels as planned.

In fact, it's clear that media planners and buyers now feel they receive less information and input about schedules and forward planning from ITV than they did back then: ignorance abounds.

So, in a sense, it seems to have been a wasted event. But they both sprang from the same spirit of defensive conviction, that this process of communicating and talking to the people who largely fund commercial television should have happened years ago.Or, as Stephen Carter, Ofcom's chief executive, put it last week: "In the digital world, control has moved away from the broadcaster."

But is Thinkbox going to work?

And is a threadbare, stage-based event the best way to communicate, given that the eight mighty TV stations involved take in £3bn of revenue a year?

I find that the sessions banging on about how uniquely powerful TV is in conveying messages, building celebrity and fame, through image, sound and movement, are embarrassingly obvious.

The so-called new findings from the Future Foundation, that TV is a social tool, which even single people watch in groups from time to time, falls into the "bleedingly obvious" category... ever go to the pub on big sports days?

There should have been a bit more said on the sticky subjects of declining mass audiences, the personal video recorder and interacting with viewers.

Much more intriguing were other subversive gems: the cutprice benefits of sponsorship, that a hotel overlooking a golf course featured on Sky Sports could spend £5,000 on a spot ad and reap £45,000 extra bookings.

That even big brands such as Ikea can spend under £1m on a very effective campaign, while cheap creative treatments costing under £50,000 do work.

What did become clear is the widespread gaps in knowledge about sponsorship, advertiser funded programmes and how red button interactive adverts work.

Some objective work on the 500 broadcast so far would be welcome, but unlikely. Most people press to get brochures and enter competitions.

To end on a high note, one positive move is that Thinkbox is taking over sponsorship of the IPA Effectiveness Awards from The Financial Times.

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