The BBC's decision to slash its marketing budget by 25% could be as much to do with sensitivity to the plight of its rivals, given the prevailing economic climate, as a real financial imperative. After all, its funding is guaranteed.
Nonetheless, the cuts will mean an end to the big-budget multimedia ad campaigns that have, sometimes controversially, been characteristic of the corporation's output.
The BBC walks a particularly fine line; at the very least it must be seen not to be too extravagant, yet it also needs to make sure that licence fee-payers are aware of the output they have funded. Tess Alps, chief executive of Thinkbox, the commercial broadcasters' market-ing body, sums up this dilemma. 'The BBC is worried that it might be seen as wasteful, but, actually, the waste would be making great content and not telling people effectively where to find it,' she says.
Tom Lucas, director of marketing and communications at UKTV (a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and Virgin Media), agrees. 'It's important that the public know what services are available,' he says. 'There is no point having great content if people don't know about it.'
It is not yet clear where the cuts will be made. However, Hugh Cameron, chief strategy officer at PHD, who worked on the BBC account while at Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters, thinks that, initially, they will be felt most keenly within the corporation. 'The number of programmes promoted will be reduced and it could prove difficult to decide which are pushed,' he warns.
Given the breadth and extent of the BBC's output, there is a compelling argument for the organisation to continue with its strategy of not advertising on non-BBC channels. However, it also runs messages online, in press, outdoor and cinema.
David Pemsel, marketing director at ITV, says the BBC could have four times more coverage than other broadcasters using only its own channels. 'Why does it need any off-air advertising, whenit has the opportunity to promote itself around programmes like The Apprentice?' he asks.
The corporation has cut back on certain media channels already. Six years ago, under its then-director-general, Greg Dyke, and marketing director Andy Duncan, the BBC was a prolific user of outdoor, but its use of the medium since has been sporadic.
It has also scaled back its use of cinema, which it has used substantially since 2007. Earlier this year, the BBC decided not to renew its contract with Digital Cinema Media. This covered the four-minute pre-roll slot it used to target younger audiences for its more niche radio output, such as the Adam & Joe show on 6 Music.
No one at the BBC would comment on the plans. Nonetheless, an indica-tion of where marketing activity could now be focused comes from the BBC Trust's decision to increase the BBC's online budget by £30.7m over the next three years - an uplift of 27%. Similarly, incoming marketing director, Sharon Baylay, is joining from Microsoft, so is well-versed in the use of the web.
It is a strategy already adopted by Channel 4, which creates and executes most of its marketing in-house. Rufus Radcliffe, head of network marketing at the commercial broad-caster, says online can be a wise choice. 'You can have a big impact and it doesn't haveto cost a vast amount,' he says.
While any belt-tightening at this time will be welcomed both by licence fee-payers and the BBC's commercial rivals, its real test will come when the worst of the recession is past.