The Song Remains the Same

I read an article on media in Reuters recently that began with the sentence, “We all know media fragmentation makes it harder than ever to reach today’s over-media-extended consumers.” It’s an idea that I seem to hear or read daily, and I think it’s exactly wrong.

Media fragmentation is a blessing for marketers. It allows us to address communities of mutual interest with messages tailored to their own needs, rituals and dispositions. In the past, we’ve tried to affect entire populations with generalized messages.

To be fair, the Reuters quote is about “reaching” consumers, and it’s certainly true that a Super Bowl spot is more likely to be seen, at a given time, by more people than a narrowcast message.

But is it our job simply to reach people or is it to influence them? Have we really “reached” them if they’ve only seen the communication without feeling it?

So to the Henny Penny I say sure, platforms are proliferating and the reach of particular media is softening. But the most important thing we all need to think about remains positively unchanged, and that’s human nature.

The human nature that gives meaning to media “impressions” is just like it was in TV’s heyday, and just like it was before TV even existed.

It is in our nature to seek out narratives. When confronted with anything unfamiliar, we ask ourselves, “What’s going on here … what’s the story?” We can’t help but do it; give us a few coincidental bits of information — say, a room with a broken vase and flowers on the floor and someone crying alone — and we’ll see the lover’s quarrel (whether it happened or not).

Leo Burnett (the man) famously pointed out that good advertising makes cars drive better and food taste better. He knew how to give good narrative, and he recognized that narrative is (or at least should be) at the center of everything we do as marketers.

The strongest brands have effectively communicated a unique and compelling point of view that transcends marketing and approaches something near truth. And they’ve typically done this via the narratives that make up their marketing communications (whatever the medium).

Truth, as an example, recognizes that cigarettes are instruments of rebellion and that teens are compelled to increase their smoking when lectured to about their health. Similarly, Truth realizes that teens embrace contexts that respect them and resist contexts that they find patronizing. This point of view is clear when you look at the empowerment thread stitched through the very center of their marketing communications.

The Truth narrative plays out in television content as well as online, in SMS-based efforts, event marketing and all other post-fragmentation tactics.

Media fragmentation has been driven by (and/or is a consequence of) the arrival of “emerging media.” These media are tools marketers can use (and phenomena they can harness) when communicating with potential customers. What distinguishes these media is primarily their two-way-ness (as opposed to one-way TV, radio and print), and secondarily their active engagement (as opposed to the passivity of TV, radio and print). Simply put: If we are trying to have conversations with consumers, then how exactly is the rise of two-way-ness hindering us?

While writing this column I checked Technorati to see what video content is currently popular among bloggers (given that the idea of broadcast vs. narrowcast plays out nicely in the case of ‘TV content on TV’ vs. ‘TV content online’). Turns out that Apple’s “1984” Macintosh commercial was the most linked-to video of the previous 48 hours.

This is a striking example of how much easier it has become to engage with a message on account of emerging platforms (which, again, are the effect and cause of media fragmentation). On Jan. 22, 1984, the spot was aired once, and 25 years later it is seen, shared and commented on by thousands of Internet users everyday, including, incredibly, those who were not around in 1984.