PromaxBDA Speech




Ladies and gentlemen, first of all thank you for having me here although I must confess that I feel I am something of an interloper.

I am not a designer, nor do I work in the hallowed halls of television. Indeed, other than the fact that I’ve been fired from 22 advertising agencies in 30 years and been called ‘the enfant terrible of Australian advertising’ my main claim to fame is being the erstwhile author of the ‘Doesn’t It Piss You Off’ column in Ad News.

In fact, when Robyn first e-mailed me and invited me here today I sent her an e-mail back saying that I would love to be involved with the event but that speaking really wasn’t my thing and could I do something like list my favourite 100 TV programs or perhaps list my 100 all time least favourite TV hosts.

Well, she sent me back a very short, terse reply which read quite simply “No, you can’t”.

Fair enough, I thought, what did surprise me, though, was that a woman of Robyn’s undoubted intelligence couldn’t spell the word “can’t” properly.

But back to the speech.

First of all, let me explain the title “I wonder what Bill Bernbach would have said”.

Mr. Bernbach is a hero of mine, a man who really understood about what mass communication is all about and was, almost single handedly, responsible for the revolution in advertising that took it from being client service based to being driven by creative thought.

My favourite quote of his is:

“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarise that society. We can brutalise it. Or we can help lift it to a higher level” BB.

Do you know how annoying it is as a TV viewer to be watching a particular film, drama, comedy, what have you, to be totally engrossed in it, and then have it constantly interrupted by an inane promo for a show you have absolutely no intention of ever watching?

If you don’t know, the answer is very simple, it really pisses people off.

Personally, if I’d seen “The President’s Plane is Missing” promo during the Olympics once more I would have thrown up. And how anyone could have watched the film having seen the promo 300 times is simply beyond my comprehension.

“ Properly practised creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.” BB.

Viewers accept TV commercials as a necessary evil – they even like some of them – but they resent being constantly sold to by the station they are already watching.

Viewers invite TV stations in to their home as a guest and they resent it when that guest becomes too pushy.

They resent it even more when that guest says: “Look at me, aren’t I wonderful” instead of “thank you for allowing me in to your home, here’s something in return”

Now I think there’s little doubt that promos and idents are getting better, I know that the guys on the ground floor are constantly striving to do better work, but I fear that the higher echelons of major TV Stations all over the world are still too self absorbed and inward looking.

“It is insight into human nature that is the key to the communicator’s skill. For whereas the writer is concerned with what he puts into his writings, the communicator is concerned with what the reader or viewer gets out it.” BB.

They are still treating the viewer, their customer, as a moron.

They are still committing the unforgivable sin of constantly talking to themselves about themselves.

And they are also consistently demanding work which is creatively mediocre.

If you don’t believe me, tell me when you last saw a promo on a major station that was as creative as the program it was promoting.

There’s nothing new. Nothing inspirational. Nothing saying “Made You look”.

So what’s wrong with what’s appearing?

Well, lets talk about program promos first.

A program promo is basically an ad for a product –the product being the specific show it is promoting – and as such it has two fundamental jobs to do.

One is to reassure those already buying the product that they are doing the right thing and to encourage them to keep doing it.

The second, more difficult but even more important task, is to attract new buyers. To make those people currently not watching the program watch it.

Now if that sounds like a Motherhood statement, it is.

But too many promo makers are ignoring this most fundamental of facts. They are ignoring the non-buyers.

Instead they are merely preaching to the converted; speaking to those people who are already watching – not to those who aren’t.

As such promos are seen as a “WHAT’S ON” instead of a “COME ON”.

And a “WHAT’S ON” will never make non-viewers “SWITCH ON”.

“You can’t sell to man who isn’t listening.” BB

I mean how can you expect to attract non-watchers of a show to that show by showing them scenes from the show.

Show me the sense in that.

And while you’re at it, tell me why so many promos look the same.

And they do, you know.

A promo for FRIENDS looks like a promo for ALLY McBEAL looks like a promo for SEINFELD.

A promo for SURVIVOR looks like a promo for TREASURE ISLAND…. a promo for GROUNDFORCE looks like a promo for BACKYARD BLITZ……I’m sure you get my drift.

Although I must admit the fact that the programs themselves are almost identical really doesn’t give the promo maker that much encouragement.

And to echo a headline in this week’s TV Guide, how much more reality can we all take?

“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.” BB

But surely, even if the order from on high is to merely promote the following week’s episode, it could be done in a more unpredictable, more rewarding way than simply editing the scenes together, putting the usual Voice Over on and telling us all to make sure we watch next week.

Even to regular watchers that must be boring and to the non regulars, it’s like saying “Look we know you don’t watch this show so here’s some more of what you won’t be watching next week”.

In a recent survey done for the cinema industry it was clearly shown that film goers believed that film promos showed them far too much. They gave away the plot. They gave away the characters. Often the action they showed turned out to be the best action in the whole film leaving the audience feeling cheated when they saw the film proper.
Do you think they’d say anything different about TV promos.

One of the most successful recent film trailers, on the other hand, was for the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

The promo teased and tantalised. It promised everything but, in fact, gave nothing away. It gave the viewer an image, a taste of what the film would be like without showing the film. It made you look.

And by doing so the promo turned what was, in truth, a very average film, into a veritable box office hit.

And isn’t that, after all, what our collective job is. To turn programs of whatever quality into ratings winners.

Let me show you a promo that for me does exactly what I’m talking about. It gives you the flavour of the show, not the content. It sells, not the sausage, but the sizzle. And by doing that makes you want to find out what the sausage is all about.


O.K enough of having a go at the poor program promo makers, what about TV station ident packages and the promos for the stations themselves.

Now, of course, these have a different job to do.

Both idents and station promos are promoting not the product, the program, but the brand, that is, the TV station itself.

Here’s what the guru of UK TV design, Martin Lambie Nairn, had to say about the subject.

“These days a TV channel is just another product on the increasingly overcrowded supermarket shelf. It is a brand.” Martin Lambie Nairn.

He went on to say that TV stations just couldn’t expect to attract and retain customers unless they differentiated themselves from everything else on that shelf.

The problem here is most TV stations don’t seem to regard themselves as a brand and, even if they do, they don’t seem to have a clear understanding of what their brand stands for.

Now don’t get me wrong. TV stations know who their target audience is but they seem incapable of seeing themselves through the eyes of that target audience.

And by looking at themselves only through their own eyes, TV stations have become increasingly short sighted to the point of being myopic.

At the same time, they’re ignoring the most basic principles of marketing and the basic rule that says ”The consumer is king”.

“The TV industry does not know very much about positioning and it is not prepared to change its existing structures to accommodate a marketing led approach.” MLN

Why is brand positioning so important?

Well, because in today’s ever cluttered world, TV stations are not just fighting each other for a share of the TV ratings, they are fighting for a share of the leisure market.

Today’s average ‘person in the street’ is working longer hours and has less time for leisure than ever before.

The same person also has more choice in how to use this decreased time.

The Internet. Pay TV. The Cinema. Sporting Events. Hobbies and pastimes. They are all growing forces which have to be reckoned with more than ever before.

More choice and less time. A worrying thought for the TV moguls if there was.

In today’s world, a world characterised by product overload, communication overload and increasingly fragmented and specialised markets, a clear idea of what a TV station stands for in the eye of the viewer is critical.

Not only that but what the TV station stands for has to be communicated to the viewer in a way that says “Here’s who we are; here’s what we stand for and here’s what’s in it for you.”

I would submit that today’s batch of TV idents may be saying “here’s who we are” they may even be saying “here’s what we stand for” but they are definitely not saying “here’s what’s in it for you”.

But just as bad as that, with all the money being spent by the various TV stations on idents there is still mass confusion out there in the real world as to who is who and who does what.

That’s because no major station is branding itself properly by taking an unmovable, unshakeable, constant and distinctive position in the heart and mind of the viewer. And even great design means absolutely nothing unless it is based on a carefully thought out brand positioning strategy.

It is because no TV station is positioning itself properly that the viewer is program loyal, not station loyal and in the world of marketing that is a cardinal sin.

“We are so busy measuring public opinion we forget we can mould it. We are so busy listening to statistics we forget we can create them.” BB

But until television stations are prepared to take a marketing-led approach, until they understand that brand positioning is as relevant to them as it is to McDonalds, Coca Cola, Nike etc nothing will change.

Nike doesn’t sell running shoes, it sells street credibility “We’re Nike, we break the rules, when you buy a pair of our runners you’re buying street cred”. It’s easy really.

Can any of you honestly tell me what clearly defined imagery each of our major stations is selling?

And can any of you tell me why so much of the work that appears here is ‘borrowed’ from overseas.

Surely, we have the talent here to be original and to create something that is more relevant to the Australian public than ideas originated overseas.

Now I know for a fact that the idents done for the ABC are recognised and applauded by Australian TV viewers, both young and old, for their Australianness. ‘Your ABC’ is as close to a correct positioning statement as any of our TV stations have managed.

We are no longer a poor relation to the UK and USA, we have an identity of our own and as soon as that is realised and acted upon the more powerful the message will be and the more respected the message bringer.

Having said all that, I’d like to leave you with an example of a promo-come-ident that was a previous year’s award winner and does come from overseas.

To me it does everything it should. It informs. It entertains. It treats me like an intelligent human being. It gives me an idea of what the station stands for. It tells me what’s in it for me. It leaves me feeling good about myself for choosing the particular brand. And it does it all because it “Made Me Look”.


As for what Bill Bernbach would have said about it all I’ll leave you with another quote, it could have been written specifically for this forum.

“The great mistakes are made when we feel we are beyond questioning.” BB.