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Constipation, optimism and pragmatism

21 Nov 2019  |  Bob Wootton 
Constipation, optimism and pragmatism

So as we wade through the season where industry (not just ours) awards itself for anything and everything, congratulations to the winners and commiserations to all for the sore heads from the ceremonies.

Meanwhile, the economy remains basically sound but utterly constipated in the face of continuing and ever more desperate gambits to deliver or deny the 2016 referendum result.

Whatever your stance, it’s like the fight scene in The Fast Show; an argument you can leave and return to but which hasn’t moved on; or a game of sport with endless extra time and little prospect of a penalty shootout.

And now we’ve reached a point where, failing a return to medieval Monarchic intervention, a draconian, risky, unpredictable – and already clearly dirty - general election of arguably unelectable parties and candidates is the only way to try and break the impasse.

Meanwhile, the commentariat in which we like to count ourselves continues to dismiss the sheer frustration of the ordinary people who make up the other ~99% of the country.

As Charles Vallance so aptly observes, optimism is abroad as a force in business as much as politics.  As good an explanation for recent history as anything else I’ve seen, this is also something we’ve long known and explains why forecasts are always so upbeat, even in the teeth of the direst portents.

Telly is certainly talking up a better end to a drab 2019, though I’ve been disappointed to see teleshopping filling ITV1’s airtime in the early hours.  And I had a fright when I saw the BARB Q3 weekly reach numbers. Doubtless the devil is in how they’re presented, but ouch.

The real winners as usual are Google and Facebook, both facing double-, if no longer treble-, digit growth again.

Each faces a steady rise in friction – state, national and supranational legislative and regulatory investigations into antitrust (aka competition) issues and a growing number of both government and class actions on the widening waterfront of privacy.  Oh, and tax…

Only this week Google demanded more protections around its commercial privacy in the face of multiple domestic lawsuits, a call rightly condemned as self-serving bleating of the highest order.

Yet consumers - those pesky real people - will continue to give away excessive amounts of personal if not always private information about themselves.  Few will abandon their beloved social channels.  Some might migrate between them but this will make little difference as all online players have to peddle users’ data to attract advertising and remain viable.

Nor is there any hard evidence that advertisers actually give a flying f*** about the social channels’ misdemeanours.  Whether around brand safety or metrics, the level of moralising blahblah coming from them and their lobbying bodies remains high, but to the rightful dismay of the established, brand-safe, regulated media, the numbers tell another story.

(By the way, an excellent piece from Lindsey Clay of Thinkbox reflects worries about local regulators hampering our businesses competitiveness as the global/US giants encroach).

Now Heinz and Unilever have been called out for ads appearing on Pornhub.  At the animal level sex may be the most natural thing but it still evokes taboos, especially in its caricatured form, porn.

This is probably widespread and is likely to be blamed on inadequate controls, probably at the programmatic level.  But it highlights once again the importance of advertiser companies taking responsibility and practicing what they preach.  Or, as we often see, not.

Tesco Head of Media Nick Ashley shared some information from Edelman at the recent IPA Touchpoints 2019 launch - one third of punters blame advertisers for improper placement of ads and 40% feel worse about brands in bad environments.

Will any of this matter?  Nah.  The inconvenient truth is that the social behemoths are right to sit it out and let things blow over while advertiser cash pours in.  New logo, anybody?  (See also below…).


Free licences for oldies?

Former BBC Director-General Lord Michael Grade took to its airwaves recently to opine on the issue of free TV licences for the over 75’s.  (Don’t worry, readers, still some way off so I hold no particular torch).

His key message was that in any licence review process, the Government holds all the cards.

I recall a different spin from the then Culture Secretary John Whittingdale who I was fairly close to on other matters of the day.  Government’s story was that the BBC had knowingly agreed to cover the cost of free licence fees in the much wider context.

Years later, the BBC and its legion policy folk and external consultants rediscover that it can’t afford it after all and will have to close significant things like BBC2.  Nothing trivial then.

The BBC’s clever denizens have skilfully moulded impartiality into an excuse for not taking a stance on anything and a reason for giving airtime to a lengthening parade of minority interests and groups.  Part of being the national public service broadcaster, undoubtedly, but hardly a raison d’être.  (Not that the House of Lords’ Communications & Digital Committees agrees).

Grade cunningly omitted one critical thing.  The media can shape public opinion much more quickly and effectively than Government.  Perhaps this threat is what is will take to bring a once-great BBC back to form.

And it’s now an election issue, albeit one in a sea of many others.


John Bull Printing Kit Stuff

Back in June, BT unveiled a new corporate identity, doubtless delivered for a reassuringly high fee.

I ventured that it looked like something a youngster might have knocked up with a My Little Pony DTP package.

Amateur, anodyne - but uncontentious.

BT had some previous form in this area with its short-lived and massively-expensive ‘Trumpeter’ identity.

Before departing for his new role at Channel 4, BT’s outgoing Marketing Director suggested I wait and see how it unfolded.

Fair play.  But I’m still waiting…

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09 Dec 2019 

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