Broadcast advertising has no place in today’s UK food industry?

Call me old fashioned, but I’ve got a confession to make; I still believe in the power of broadcast advertising communications when it comes to food brands!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite.  I understand the growing power of social media, and in case I forget it, I have three teenage sons to remind me.  I therefore understand that audiences don’t sit glued to the TV screens though the ads (did they ever?!), and, in the case of younger audiences, they don’t even sit glued to the screen during the programme they want to watch. Rather they watch the programme through one eye, listen through one ear and with their remaining faculties occupy themselves on Facebook and whatever is trending on Twitter.

I would however contend that they are not oblivious to TV advertising – provided it’s good.  Nor are they shy of rejecting commercial messaging on social media – if it’s little interest.  In short therefore, it comes down to the quality and craft of the messaging as much as the medium by which it is conveyed. T’was ever thus.

I’d also contend that the balance between the use of new and old media should play close attention to the nature of the consumer relationship with the category in question.  It is clear to me that the focus on social media as a cost effective vehicle for brand-building should increase in close correlation with the level of the target consumer’s interest in, and involvement and interaction with the category in question. Nappies would be a case in point. For obvious reasons, new parents (unlike we jaded ones), obsess about doing what is best for little Jonnie or Jessica; they research, they exchange notes, they start widespread virtual networks to share their research and experiences.  Against this backdrop, I can fully embrace the idea of moving substantial resource from “old” to “new” media.

Conversely, if I think of the proverbial can of beans, I’m not convinced.  With the nappies, I imagine that in the vast majority of households the brand choice is made long before the shopping list is written, whilst in the case of the beans, the final decision may well happen much further down the shopper journey.  In the last three feet of the beans-buying journey, a good proportion of shoppers may still have a hovering hand.  Whether that hand ultimately alights on brand x, or y, or on the retailers private label will be determined by a variety of factors; display prominence, pricing & promotional offers, and last but not least a real or perceived belief and trust in quality differentials.

It is on this last point that I still have a strong belief in the power of “old-style” brand building. It is not that I believe that poor quality can be overcome by good communications. I just believe that hovering hands can still be persuaded to reach for brands – even at a premium – when “old-fashioned” broadcast media messages have helped to build trust and loyalty.

I was reminded of this recently when I heard a senior industry figure, charged with custody of a portfolio of mainstream UK food brands, pontificate that brand-building through broadcast media was old school and he would no longer be wasting his marketing budget on it.  Whether he actually believed this, or was simply rehearsing his lines for shareholders as to why he had cut spend to protect short-term profits on the back of falling volumes, was unclear.  What was much clearer was the data I saw some weeks later on his category.  His major brands had significantly underperformed category growth, whilst the greatest growth in both percentage and absolute sterling revenues had come from a competitor a fraction of the size who had nevertheless outspent him on broadcast media!

There is a role for both old and new media in the marketing toolbox for food brands – sometimes using one to the exclusion of the other can be an appropriate, but often the two in combination are necessary to achieve one’s marketing goals.  What is always an essential ingredient is deep-rooted consumer insight and understanding by which both the craft of the message and the choice of media-mix live or die.