Media Planning and Buying Future of TV

It’s ‘business as usual’ for brands advertising during the Boris Johnson media circus


By John McCarthy | Media editor

July 8, 2022 | 6 min read

It is the biggest story in the UK, but most brands – with the exception of the usual PR piggybackers – aren’t going near it. The spectacular implosion of Boris Johnson’s reign as prime minister may have got the country tuning into news bulletins en masse, but it hasn’t compelled advertisers to change their plans.

Boris Johnson

‘Stay calm’ Dentsu’s Hamish Nicklin tells brands advertising during the Boris Johnson media circus / Number 10

That’s the view of Hamish Nicklin who, having served as chief revenue officer at The Guardian and now occupying the post of chief executive at Dentsu Media UK, is no stranger to how brands flex in (and mostly out) of the news. By his rough estimate, 95% of Dentsu’s clients have continued with “business as usual“ this week, even as the running of the country has been anything but.

“We’re watching all this unfold on our favorite news apps, but most will make no immediate changes to their media executions,“ he tells The Drum.

It is surprising to hear that few will change tack considering TV news viewership was higher than average this week. Excluding video on demand and online, BBC News at Six drew the biggest audiences, peaking with 4m views and 30% share on Wednesday (June 6). This was ahead of commercial broadcaster ITV News, which reached 3m and 22% share. Channel 4 News took 1.4m and 7% share and Sky News was watched by 10,000 and 0.7%, according to overnights. That’s not counting the news sites, social and print media, which have simultaneously brought more clarity to events and helped stir up the pyschodrama.

Nicklin says: “It has been a classic week. The Boris Johnson news is something that obviously everybody is glued to, but it hasn’t necessarily changed what we’ve been doing and how we work day-to-day in the agency.“

Advertising around news content remains a matter, with blunt force keyword blockers in the programmatic buying chain too often only serving to defund legitimate journalism. Research from news publisher Reach suggests that marketers are somewhat blinded to the benefits of supporting journalism, although there is a growing wave keen to support crisis journalism. That movement remains in its infancy and since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine media agencies have struggled to keep brands advertising in the news. It was the same after the Capitol Hill assault.

Of course, Boris Johnson refusing to leave Downing Street doesn’t throw up the same brand safety concerns. Nicklin points out that a handful of brands will attempt to hijack the news through humor, although they generally choose the media path of least resistance – their own social media platforms – to get their commentary out there. “Some brands will give us a brief that just says ’go be funny’ and we’ll usually do it through their social channels because that’s what their brand is. That’s what their brand does.”

The Dentsu chief wouldn’t reveal which clients are working on such stunts, but a knowing grin indicated that there is some real-time reaction in the works.

As a passionate supporter of news, he is quick to remind brands of the value of journalism environments. “There will be a handful of brands that get a bit squeamish. And they’ll call us and ask us to avoid the news temporarily. Now, we’ll just remind them that we’ve never seen any research that suggests that being near these sorts of stories damages the brand.

“Something that’s political like this, it’s drama, just like the West Wing.”

From his time at The Guardian, he knows that sales teams at news organizations will be proactive in offering up prime spots next to top stories they know people will be hungry to consume. A good team will have a solid hunch when their audiences will spike upwards and sell accordingly, regardless of the medium. He concludes: “Let’s just all stay calm. Let’s crack on. There is no real drama apart from what’s going on in Westminster. Our businesses continue to go on, consumers still consume media and they are still buying products.”

It’s a message that’s been echoed by the UK’s advertising trade associations – Keep Calm and Carry On (advertising). We’ve been through this before – remember the premiership of Theresa May that ushered in the age of Johnson? May’s departure in 2017 also proved to be a huge media event, with brands making it an objective to tie into the timely news, be it print news-hijacking or references to fields of wheat.

Today, buyers have been hardened by a tumultuous few years. The destabilization of the UK in dramatic fashion in front of a fully engaged, perhaps horrified audience, may have once felt like a bigger concern. Now it’s just another day. These events are certainly more codified than they’ve ever been.

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