Monday, March 30, 2009

Does mass media still exist?

More and more companies are looking for alternative ways to advertise. Notice that I didn't say "talk to consumers" like the request usually sounds. This may be the official request, but what these companies eally mean is: get my message in front of as many people as possible but do it in a way that makes me feel good that we are using all the cool new tools that I keep hearing about.

And who can blame them?

For the last 60-70 years companies have come to rely on the ability of advertisers to get the message out to the masses. From the early days of radio where "never before in the history of the world have five or ten or fifty million people listened to the same sound at the same time" (VP of advertising at BBDO, 1935), through to television - companies could build a marketing plan around the fact that advertisers could connect them to the masses. Because of the given choices for the consumer (radio, print and television), it wasn't too hard to find out where/when most "people were looking in the same direction at the same time."* But...

...things have changed. The task to reach the place where most people place their attention is not so simple. We keep hearing about how cool the world of new media is - but we struggle with how it fits within our current ideas of marketing and advertising. The fact that we call it media - social media, new media, etc - doesn't help.

In today's households, 40% of leisure time is spent online. When there are more websites than people on this planet, it is not a simple task of finding where these people spend 40% of their time. It's not that these people can't be reached - it's just that the way we can reach them, isn't black and white like buying a couple hundred GRP's on CBS. This makes companies worried. It makes marketing teams believe that the investment carries a greater amount of risk.

There is a perception that this move online is taking away from other media, after all we only have 24 hours in a day. In reality, of the 142 hours per month that we watch television, a large portion of that is spent splitting our attention between mediums. In a study last year from MarketingVox, 31% of those watching television were also online. Now we're dealing with a time-crunched consumer, who is also dividing their attention between mediums. Something the media ratings systems have not quite accounted for and something that is not reflected (or requested) in many media plans.

So reaching the masses is no longer black and white. The masses are fragmented. Even when we know where they are, we can be almost certain that there attention is only partly there. Facing this reality, marketers and advertisers have to change their dialogue with each other. The need to identify our audience beyond general demographics is essential. The more our audience fragments it's attention and time, the more our marketing/advertising efforts require fragmentation. The solution involves more creative ideas, more time listening to consumers and abandoning the thought that any idea outside of mass media holds greater risk.


*Paraphrased from "Buying In" by Rob Walker.