We’re witnessing the beginnings of a debate – I wouldn’t call it a raging debate yet – on the role that advertisers have in influencing the content on news channels.
Predictably, the majority (published) opinion from both advertisers and their media agencies is that pulling out advertising from news channels that air fake news or divisive content, etc, is tantamount to ‘interference’ in editorial.
And these brands and agencies are all honourable entities.
That’s why, when they receive negative coverage or unwanted coverage on these very news channels, they summon the sales team they deal with and make their displeasure known. The sales team nudges the ‘management’ and the management nudges the editorial team. And the unwanted coverage goes away.
Many of those in senior positions in media agencies would remember the extraordinary stand-off between the Tatas and the Times of India Group – a stand –off that lasted a few years.
The trigger? Coverage that the Tatas were unhappy with. The unhappiness that resulted in the complete absence of advertising by all Tata brands from all publications of the Times of India group.
So let us dismiss, once and for all, the holier-than-thou position on not wanting to interfere in the editorial stance of the channel(s). That’s rubbish. Complete, total, rubbish.
At the core of the problem of brands not seeming to care where their advertising is aired is the fact that the media plan is made quantitatively and not qualitatively.
The only question that is asked when deciding on the media plan is “what is the cost per reach?”
No questions are asked on the content.
No questions are asked on the ‘ambience’.
No questions are asked on the quality of the viewers, on the attributes of the viewers other than the usual demographics of age, location, etc.
The scale can be tipped by poor negotiation by a news channel, which will automatically reduce the cost per viewer and make the channel a must buy.
Even if the channel is known for divisiveness, known to amplify fake news, etc.
Brands and marketers (and, indeed, CEOs and members of the board) must take an interest in the qualitative aspects of the media plans and attach weightage and premia to the non-quantitative areas as well.
And brands and marketers, and CEOs and boards MUST NOT ALLOW everything to be reduced to pounds, shillings and pence and to mere commerce.
The problem is that, in a world of a glut in data, there is no data that allows us to see which TV channels are peddlers and purveyors of fake and divisive news, etc.
But there is a solution: forget about data.
Call for your media plan for news channels. Watch each of the channels on the plan during prime time for 15 minutes.
Now ask yourself the following questions:
- Would you be proud if your daughter got a job working directly as an assistant to the lead anchor of the channel?
- Would you invite the lead anchor to your house for a small dinner with less than 10 guests?
- Would you enjoy the company of the anchor if he/she were seated next to you on an international flight for 8 hours?
- And, finally, a perhaps-data-question: Would you have the channel on if you were in the company of your parents, your spouse and your children?
It’s not that difficult to clean up your media plan. All it takes is the will. And the recognition that there is more to life than a quantitatively efficient media plan.