UPFRONT 1997: An Uptick in the Upfront?

A Big Four television networks top sales executive was playing coy recently when he said it was “still a little early” to make a call on the auction for TV-commercial inventory from September 1997 through August 1998. Still, he admitted that he’s been rummaging around among some client and agency sources. He also said he applies a time-tested “correction code” to what he’s been hearing about this year’s upfront selling season. “The rule is, when I hear an advertiser or category is going to be ‘flat,’ I know their spending will actually be up. When they say spending will be ‘down,’ they usually mean flat. And when they say ‘up a little,’ they really mean they’re going to be spending a lot more than the previous year,” says the veteran of 15 or more of network television’s annual spring sell-athons. “So far, I’ve been hearing either ‘flat’ or ‘up a little,’ so I think we’re looking at a very strong, very friendly, very healthy marketplace.”

Regardless of a network sales rep’s particular negotiating leverage or powers of persuasion, the notion that “a rising tide lifts all boats” is of some comfort at this point. The following industry-by-industry marketplace snapshots reported by Brandweek support the “up-to-up-a-lot” feeling that’s helping some national TV sales execs sleep a little easier. Put it this way: The one category that looks like it might take a bit of a hit this coming year-entertainment-nevertheless will generate five or six more major motion-picture releases between this September and next August than it did the previous year. Knowing the critical importance of opening weekends, either those movie marketers are being somewhat unrealistic about the marketplace they’re about to collectively commit a half-billion dollars to, or the “new marketing and media paradigm” mentioned in the category summaries is sucking some major dollars out of the market.

Other than that, the people selling broadcast and cable ad time should bow in three directions in gratitude for the present health and well-being of their livelihoods. First, they should give thanks to the branding gods, who have decreed that advertisers increasingly shift money from price discounts, slotting allowances and other trade promotions, and concentrate those marketing dollars on building their wares’ brand value among consumers. Second, national TV sales executives should thank the angels of parity, for they assure that positioning and image advertising are the only ways for a marketer to secure and retain a competitive edge in a marketplace full of similar products and services. Finally, they should issue canons of praise and thanks for the good work of the Food and Drug Administration, whose recent approval has assured that a raft of new prescription and over-the-counter drugs are headed for market, carrying with them advertising and marketing budgets of $30 million, $40 million, $80 million.

Thanks to the FDA, pharmaceutical marketers and their agencies, who need to introduce new OTC brands to consumers, will have to say in advance of the auction for commercial time: “We’ll be up a little.”-John McManus

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED