Why £11.2bn of the UK’s £16bn adspend is wasted

According to the Advertising Association 2011 ad expenditure in the UK will be circa £16 billion. So a client spending £1.6m in 2011 will account for 0.01% of all advertising. Makes you think harder about what is and isn’t effective, remembered, acted upon.

My guess is the spread of spend might go something like this:
Outstanding 10% = £1.6 billion
Good 20% = £3.2 billion
Poor 50% = £8.0 billion
Rubbish 20% = £3.2 billion

If I’m anywhere near accurate then this says £11.2. billion might as well be spent on something else. It’s a great deal of money; and this is just advertising, add to that sales promotions, sponsorship etc., and the numbers are huge. It’s blindingly obvious why the mega groups such as WPP, Omnicom etc., want to play big time in where the money goes irrespective of the content. 25 per cent of the gross spend is an eyewatering £4 billion of cash going through the books. Who is going to die on a sword over creative integrity?

I was reading a client brief yesterday for a modest spender in advertising, under £1m, and the brief is asking for several different results from the requested advertising. There was not any attempt to recognise the limits of their available funding; it felt to me it had been written without any consideration for the wider world they are competing in. The reality is this client needs to work out what they can’t have and what they can have and not produce a sensible wish list.

When Simons Palmer started working on Nike in the early 90?s we had £1m for media for the year. Johnny Trainor (honest) was the client and he was smart enough to accept it wasn’t going to be spread across multiple media channels. Our vote was for the lot to go on outdoor which he agreed to; the £1m then bought us about nine months of continuous exposure across the UK on 48 and 96 sheet posters.

The work went down very well and on the smallish budget Nike was very visible and dominant for most of the year. Some of the posters are iconic such as Sampras about to serve a grenade, Cantona and 66 was a great year for football.

This is a good example of seamless collaboration between the creative and media teams. Our media arm at the time was MGM and Colin Gottlieb got the rationale immediately and supported the proposal. One of the big problems these days is the media boys and girls beaver away on their own trying to work out maximum cover of an audience without any consideration of fragmentation and the creative content.

Going back even further at GGT we had media in-house (it is a long time ago). People like Mike Gold and Julian Neuberger would get closely involved with the creative development and construct media thinking to optimise the effect of the creative. It was a truly creative environment all round and the results for clients such as Toshiba, Ariston, LWT, Holsten Pils and many more clients were way above their ‘share of voice’ based on media spend.

GGT was a great training ground for smart thinking. Dave Trott was very difficult at times but his motive was always to reject the ordinary and find clever ways of being better than the competition. I worked with an inspirational man in my formative years who would often say “a shout is worth a million whispers”. In terms of media and content this is clearly true.

If I was in the mainstream ad world today I think I would ask clients, where do you want to be? Outstanding, good, poor or rubbish? If the answer is outstanding then the client has to get real about what is and isn’t available to them plus acquire some creative backbone.

Shame so much of the £16 billion is spent on what the computer says rather than what smart people can achieve.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.