Save Yourself

Brutalizing a seminal Michael Stipe lyric in the interest of making a point about advertising may seem sinful to some. But the magnitude of my recent suspicions calls for drastic measures. (And plagiarism.)

Here’s my thought: I think media—as currently defined—could evaporate within the next decade.

Yep. The current concept of media (pay and they pay attention) could just go away. Kaput.

Why? Well, it seems we are moving (seismically, in some neighborhoods) toward a sort of marketing meritocracy. Stinks of communism if you ask me, but here’s the logic train—destination Ad Absurdum: If all the world’s a medium (don’t think mobile phones, video games and microchip-implanted clothes aren’t lined up next after the Internet and television), and if all the world’s on demand (remote control gone wild), then no amount of sweet media manna can simply clear its throat and demand rapt consumer attention. Not in the way it does now, anyway.

Look at it this way. MySpace, blogs, YouTube and some heretofore ignored MIT dropout from Kansas have an even shot at coagulating a loyal audience with NBC. It’s just simply true.

And their advertising models will follow (someone’s got to rationalize Mr. Murdoch paying half a billion for MySpace)—but, I believe, with one fundamental and crucial difference: They will be competing with brands.

In fact, if you are a marketer reading this piece right now, congratulations! You may already be a new media mogul.

Barriers to audience generation, aggregation and fidelity (the lifeblood of media companies) have come tumbling down so fast, you’d think Jericho learned to play a DNS.

The idea that Coke could have a successful music and social networking business, that BMW could have films more popular than Warner Brothers, that Procter & Gamble could have more direct engagement with its eventual consumers than its own retail distributors—well, that’s just crazy talk.

So, you are a prominent mass brand with a quarter of a billion dollars itching a hole. Should General Electric (I mean NBC) or News Corp. (I mean MySpace) get it? Or Time Warner (for the synergy between Time magazine and AOL)? What will those costs yield? Is there an annuity? Any sort of accrual or recurring value? What remains on the books as an asset in a year’s time?

Now, what if you took 1 percent of that money and created your own Time Warner?

Crazy? Hubris? Perhaps.

But let’s say you did. Let’s say you created the next MySpace. How much did MySpace cost anyway? Ten thousand bucks, a coder and a dream?

Well, it’s the idea that’s invaluable, you say. Lightning in a bottle, you say! OK. But don’t you have agencies that are paid to generate nothing but? Don’t you have reams of research and consumer data that should guide you to the next flammable popular desire? Why shouldn’t you originate and own the next MySpace? Why not?

If it were my money, I would give it a shot. I sure as hell would. Ideas own audiences now. Not conglomerates.

Either way, I think it is the end of media as we know it.

And to tell you the truth, I feel fine.