Television best at brand building but creative being 'stifled'

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 13 October 2016
TV industry veterans Harold Mitchell, Kurt Burnett, Adrian Swift and Kim Portrate share their views on TV ads.

Television advertising is still the most effective medium for brand building and plays a vital role shaping culture even though the creative has become stifled due to fragmented media “distractions”, more global creative and the drive for marketing ROI.

That's the verdict of TV and media industry veterans AdNews asked to reflect on 60 years of television advertising.

Arguably Australia's most influential adman over the majority of TV's existence has been Harold Mitchell. He entered the ad game in 1960, four years after TV launched in 1956, and has an intimate knowledge of how the market has evolved, running the nation's largest media agency, Mitchell & Partners, until 2013.

When asked about how TV advertising has changed over the years, Mitchell tells AdNews that during the 70s, 80s and 90s “creative was king”.

“We saw massive budgets devoted to the creative work and it was well worth it because brands were built and reputations were built out of good creative,” he says, adding that the ad agencies he worked with tended to be smaller, "highly creative" independents, such as Campaign Palace, Mojo and Merchant & Partners.

This began to change in the early 2000s, Mitchell explains, when audience targeting, impressions and return on investment became important outcomes of advertising campaigns.

“It meant that the creative was starting to take a back step,” he recalls. “That was sad in some ways but was the way the economies of marketing were changing."

Another emerging trend that had an impact on advertising was globalisation, which led to centralised creative being produced abroad.

“In Australia, we mostly produced our own commercials for our own products and markets but later the worldwide ad became a phenomena. They were sometimes wonderful ads but it made a difference,” says Mitchell, who is chairman of Free TV Australia.

More AdNews coverage on 60 years of TV

Take a trip down memory lane as we look back on TV
Check out how much TV advertising cost in 1956 compared with today?
'Australia needs free TV' - new campaign celebrates 60 years

TV creative 'distracted'

Seven West Media chief revenue officer Kurt Burnette has been in the TV industry for 26 years. He says that television as a platform has always been the “key influencer” and the best way to build a brand to large audiences – pointing out ads like Yellow Pages 'Not Happy Jan' and the Carlton United Brewery's 'The Big Ad' as classic examples.

Like Mitchell, Burnette says creative messaging on TV ads has become “somewhat stifled” and the 60-year anniversary is a good time to reflect on advertising.

“There's a lot of analytics and research that goes into things. I think the notion of the 'big ad' – the big creative message – it has come off somewhat and I hope there is a time and a chance we can come back to that,” he says.

The reason why Burnette believes creative has “gone off a bit” is “distraction from the job at hand”.

“There needs to be more focus on what it is that is trying to be achieved through the message and creative idea as opposed to worrying about how you get something onto a social feed or a digital asset. It shouldn't be asset first; it should be idea first,” Burnette adds.

Another reason why creative messaging isn't as punchy is that advertising is often used to drive viewers onto social media and other digital assets, whereas previously TV messaging was purely about getting a brand position to the market.

Burnette believes that as the media continues to fragment further, there's a real opportunity for TV's powerful creative and engaging messaging to stand out.

'TV ads shape and reflect our culture'

Kim Portrate, the CEO of Think TV, has been working with TV either as a buyer, seller or creator of content for many years.

She believes TV creative has evolved in line with Australian culture over the years and believes it is still the most emotionally rich and engaging form of advertising.

An example of this is the Meadow Lea ads in the 80s reflected how a woman’s role was perceived in those days and the recent MLA lamb ads expressed Australian cultural diversity.

“Each age of TV over that period, the physical messaging and content has evolved but that’s because the community has evolved – that’s one of the powers of TV, it evolves to reflect the broader community," Portrate says. "TV advertising is both reflective but it can also lead the thinking of how we perceive ourselves.”

Another observation on how creative has changed is that messaging has become far less instructive and much more honest, says Nine’s head of content, production and development Adrian Swift, who has been in the TV industry for 30 years.

“The ads are tending to be more complex, less shouty and really clearly aimed at what consumer behaviours they want to drive,” Swift says, adding that the days of Joyce Mayne style of TVC is (thankfully) behind us.

“That comes down to advertisers understanding their messaging better, they’re understanding consumer psychology better and ads are getting better at driving that,” Swift says.

Multi-channelling has also opened the TV advertising gates to more brands on a budget, in turn making the primary channel inventory more of a premium ad product.

Tomorrow, we ask the panel of TV industry veterans to pick their favourite ads of all time and the TVCs that have had the greatest impact. You’ll never guess Harold Mitchell’s top spot.

And in case you ever doubted how much Aussies loved margarine in the 80s, check out this wonderful ad.

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