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Good business, pretty pictures and mysterious Volvo power

13 Jul 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
Good business, pretty pictures and mysterious Volvo power

Source:BBC/YouTube

Dominic Mills sees the positive side of a dip in agency new business wins, reflects on the raison d’être for a combined PSB ad and considers his next car purchase

The AAR has just published its New Business Pulse report covering the first half of this year and…no surprise…new agency appointments are down 44%. Yes, some large reviews remain ongoing, but it is generally likely that there will be no overall upturn this year.

Campaign reported this last week, under the headline ‘New-business appointments fall as reviews hit by delays’.

Accurate, of course, but there’s another way of looking at it, which is to say that agency-client retention rates have risen. And that is good news.

The ad industry, I feel, has always had a schizoid view of new business. It talks the game about retention, but in fact gets far more worked up about new business. New business is energising, new business is exciting. Retention is, in comparison, dull and doesn’t generate headlines. Yet every new-business opportunity is a dent in one agency’s retention rate.

Unless, that is, the new-business opportunity comes about as a result of a failed or abandoned in-housing attempt.

But that’s a by-the-by. What we need to see is whether clients have realised the sheer inefficiencies of holding pitches and whether, even if things aren’t perfect, agencies which have dug deep during COVID-19 to service their clients deserve a little more loyalty. Every agency I have spoken to in the last few months has stepped up to the plate with energy, commitment and ingenuity.

And there’s one more possibility: it’s that, forced by circumstance to re-invent the way they interact, client marketing departments and their agency partners have actually found a better way of working, such that the things — large or small — that may have previously sparked a review are dealt with or managed better.

It won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a headline like this: ‘Satisfied and loyal clients cut back on pitches.’ Ah well, we can only dream.

Pretty pictures that don’t tell me much

In case you’ve missed it, all the free-to-air public service broadcasters (PSBs) ran a blockbuster, two-minute ad last Wednesday at the same time across their combined 21 channels…yes, including the BBC. It was made by Uncommon Studios, ITV’s agency.

The ad, ‘Our stories are your stories', must therefore be a big deal, you’d think.

And it sets out to impress. Intro shots of iconic landmarks — the Cornish coast, the Angel of the North and more — are pasted onto TV screens. They in turn show a clip from a well-known TV show: Fleabag, Match of the Day, Corrie, Bake Off and so on.

There’s stirring music and a voiceover that tells us, “This is the story of everything we’ve done. And everything we could be. This is us. This is who we are. Our stories are your stories.”

All that was missing was a bit of Shakespeare…“This sceptred isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden…” - the go-to script when we want some patriotic tub-thumping.

You get it. It’s vacuous nonsense disguised by grand purpose, described here in the official release as a celebration of the role UK broadcasters play in our culture (but only some of them, obviously. Not Sky or Netflix, both of which you could say also contribute to UK culture).

Well, yes, we know that telly is inextricably linked to national culture, both as a reflection and a feeder. And good for the broadcasters for linking up together, although awkward timing for the BBC coming as the ad did with news of the cut-backs on free licences for the over-75s.

But so what? Beyond giving the PSBs a nice warm glow, what is the ad actually supposed to achieve? What am I, as a fully paid-up, TV-watching, citizen of the UK supposed to think, feel or do?

Cancel my subs and watch more PSB stuff? I don’t think so. I’ll do exactly as I did before, which is consume great telly and curse bad telly.

The mysterious allure of a Volvo

I’m sort of thinking about changing the car at the moment. On the plus side, with sales having plummeted during coronavirus, there are bargains to be had. Less positively, the buying experience still remains overwhelmingly physical; the efforts of Mercedes notwithstanding, digitisation is still some way off from the full car-buying experience.

For car advertisers, I’m a nightmare: half-in market, half-out, with a purchase process that could take a couple of weeks or six months depending on inclination, effort and opportunity. How do they get a fix on me?

As for the consideration list, it is both long (too long) and shifting. I’ve seen a few TV ads and heard a few radio commercials since showrooms shut — but nothing has stuck.

And then one day last week, for no apparent reason, I thought ‘Volvo’. It wasn’t even on the long list and I don’t recall seeing any ads, so how did it barge its way in? I know Volvo has reinvented itself, but I still don’t see myself as a Volvo owner. Too clunky and boxy, to say the least.

It dawned on me. I’ve been catching up on Succession on Sky Atlantic, and the channel is sponsored — in a very low-key, minimalist, typically Swedish way — by Volvo.

It’s obviously working for Volvo and I guess it generally does for other car manufacturers.

Everywhere you look on TV, there’s a car brand sponsorship attached. JLR and Sky documentaries; Mitsubishi and C4 documentaries; Suzuki and Gogglebox; Renault and Sky footie; Seat and ITV mystery drama; Dacia and prime-time Dave; and Nissan and UEFA Champions League TV coverage.

As Tom Cocker, executive director (aka ‘auto guy’) at Manning Gottlieb explains, sponsorship is the missing link that gives a constant present between the more standard campaign fare, which in turn is linked to new brand launches — few and far between currently, what with all the unsold inventory to get rid of — and new registration dates.

Given the complete stop and now gradual opening up of the car market, those brands savvy enough to have invested in sponsorship and thus keep their names visible are likely to benefit most. Those that haven’t may well be searching for opportunities.

The bigger question though is the extent to which COVID-19 will drive a longer-term change in car purchasing habits. More virtual visits and test drives will surely come, if slowly, and then delivery to your door. But getting on to the consideration list is the first step, and it will be interesting to see if TV — in whatever form — retains its primacy.

It may because, judging by my own experience, joining up on- and offline advertising is still a mixed experience. Despite sending out various digital signals — search, dealer and manufacturer site visits — I’ve been left alone online.

As for the final decision — if it ever happens — I’ll let you know if it’s a Volvo.

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patrickHouston, Analyst, Anthology on 13 Jul 2020
“Hi Dominic. I am watching Succession. And when my Citroen blew up 3 weeks ago I bought a Volvo! To be honest I hadn't made the link but ....”

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