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Forum: The Audience Is Listening: Why Isnt Anyone Talking

8/02/1998 8:00 PM Eastern

As a conduit for messages, television is unrivaled in its
reach and efficiency.

And yet, as television approaches its second half-century
of existence, its audiences are fragmented and reeling from the increasing number of
options being presented.

Life was simple at the beginning. First, there was
broadcast television, with three networks and local affiliates all raking in an
extraordinary amount of revenue.

But with the advent of cable, direct-broadcast satellite
and the Internet, the demands on viewers' time and eyeballs has reached meltdown.

Television has to learn to market itself more smartly to
retain audience, as well as to build new interest from the kids who seem to be spending
more time on the Internet.

So the challenges are really twofold -- keeping the
audiences that you currently have, and attracting those who have strayed.

We want to address the first issue. Breaking through the
clutter through effective marketing is the primary mission for every entity on the
airwaves.

Clearly, television can sell anything. Why can't it
sell itself?

I'd like to suggest that the answer to this question
isn't hidden under a pile of statistics. Rather, it's plain to see in the
endless swirl of dazzling graphics that currently passes for broadcast marketing.
Certainly, there's much to amuse the eye. But what about amusing the minds?

Where are the words that make people stop and think? Where
are the words that form complete thoughts, that catch the imagination by painting their
own vivid picture?

Too often, we forget that television is sight, sound,
motion and emotion. It's the intelligent combination of all of these elements that
makes the medium sing. And you can't have a successful song without great lyrics.

Don't get me wrong: This isn't an attack on
broadcast design. Television looks better than ever. Audiences have come to expect
sophisticated visuals and, for the most part, that's what they're getting.

But what does a "look" actually mean? And when
did broadcasters begin to believe that a graphics package was a message?

The audience is not stupid: It's numb. But while other
advertisers address this phenomenon with creative energy -- "Quality Is Job 1"
and "Obey Your Thirst" -- the television industry is generally content to spin
logos in space, to parade stars on white backgrounds and to occasionally trot out a banal
phrase or two buried in layers of computer-generated art.

The problem is that most broadcasters pay too much for
well-crafted graphics and too little for well-crafted words.

My advice? You've got your look: Live with it.
It's time to find your voice.

Give your creative-services department more freedom to
generate a unique way of speaking to -- and with -- your audience. And give them more
money to get help if they need it.

The audience wants to be entertained. If they are not
experiencing what excites them on your network, they will go someplace else, rather than
be bored. But make no mistake, viewers are selective: They sift, they filter, they choose.

It's time to stop thinking that copy is the easy part.
It's not.

That "Got Milk?" campaign didn't just
happen: A really smart ad guy wrote those words, and a really smart client paid a lot of
money for the right to use them.

So demand the best of your local ad agency. A picture may
be worth a thousand words, but a few well-placed, well-chosen words are worth the whole
ball of wax.

Among people who make their living creating great copy,
there's a saying: "Writers write."

It's time to let the writers in our business do just
that.

Stefan Gerber is president and creative director at Air
Creative Group
.

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