MARKETING MIX: HOBBY HORSE - Content matters more than media facts and figures

Advertising is, in many ways, the grandchild of the media business.

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

contextual understanding.

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.


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