Advertising is, in many ways, the grandchild of the media
Our agency, J Walter Thompson, started out in 1864 in New York selling
advertising space in religious journals. Now, the industry appears to
have come full circle, as we find ourselves in a period where much of
the innovation in the business is coming from the media world.
Major deals are announced every week, traditional definitions of
competitors are having to be revised as everyone from Microsoft to BT
converges on the media market. Given the dynamism in media, the
emergence of new channels, the proliferation of specialist-interest
magazines and the surge in popularity of the Internet, it’s interesting
to look at how the UK advertising industry views media as a discipline
and as a commercial opportunity.
Most of the recent debate in the trade press and at conferences seems to
have been about structure, size and cost. It is important that the
structural shape of any business is aligned with its commercial focus,
but most of this debate focuses on the buying and purchasing aspects of
the market, rather than a consumer- or content-led analysis of it.
Looking at the investment made by British companies in media
expenditures in the past year alone, it is staggering that the majority
of the analysis of the return on that investment is historically and
clinically quantitative, rather than qualitative.
We have tables which highlight top viewing programmes, high-rating
programmes, best-selling newspapers, and so on. However, if media is
really no more than a channel for communications, entertainment and
information, then surely one should be more interested in the content,
and the relationship between the producer and receiver of that
If you talk to anyone running a new cable TV channel, an emergent
commercial radio station or a major entertainment company, they will all
say the same thing: the future lies in having the best content. Media
companies in the UK will need to be focused on the power of the end
product and its relationship with its customers. It might well be
appropriate to pay five times the market rate for a slot, if it could be
proven that the depth of involvement was six times as great for the
relevant target audience.
As the media owners themselves feel the squeeze of competition, they
will combine their focus on content with ever more revealing and
valuable analysis of its impact and commercial value. This will allow
the industry to balance the measurable analysis and numbers with some
Size and scale have a place, but they are no substitute for quality and
As I look forward, I see nothing but fame and fortune for the
advertising business, if we can concentrate on the quality of content
and on the cause and effect of the communication.
Stephen Carter is chief executive at J Walter Thompson.