A Medium That's Well Done

Nov 1, 2001 12:00 PM, BY CRAIG KRUEGER - Promo Magazine

With foresight to rival that of Nostradamus, Marshall McLuhan in 1967 recognized the profound and compelling influence of all media — independent of the messages they communicate — on man and society.

McLuhan observed the unfolding electronic revolution — first TV, then computers — and accurately predicted a range of sociological and cognitive outcomes that would profoundly influence human behavior.

At the core of his musings on the social effects of the ongoing technological revolution was the guiding principle that “the medium is the message.” This oft-quoted observation is a gem for promotion and marketing executives who can step back and absorb its timelessness and immediacy as the post-PC wireless revolution continues.

Case in point: Last summer, opponents of embattled former Philippines president Joseph Estrada transmitted text messages to hundreds of thousands of wireless phones calling for one million protestors to congregate. This literal “call to action” predicted that such an assembly would catalyze the army to force the president to step down. The people gathered, Estrada resigned, and the Philippines got a new leader.

Because of the accelerated proliferation of new wireless technologies that can transmit and receive information, the 21st century consumer has immediate access to content virtually anytime and anywhere. Jon Mandel, chief negotiating officer of Grey Worldwide, New York City, says that chief marketing officers, media planners, and agency executives “must embrace the reality of today's new media-scape by creating new strategies that reach a mobile audience that is not watching television, listening to the radio, or surfing the Net.”

Despite declining use of traditional media and an explosion of non-traditional options, marketing executives are beginning to understand technology's impact on the consumer mindset — as well as the complexities and costs associated with reaching a targeted audience. “If the messages don't quickly reach and communicate value to the target audience, consumers are gone faster than ever before,” says Tim O'Krongly, vp-new business development for CoActive Marketing, Great Neck, NY.
But strategic and creative emphasis continues to be placed on the content of communications rather than on unique delivery vehicles. Acceptance of new media has been hampered by:

  • The limited audience of wireless media, which does not yet scale domestically, in part due to carriers who operate on multiple platforms. Compatibility for wireless devices across all platforms has not yet been achieved. (Incidentally, TV did not scale for similar reasons when it was first introduced.)

  • New media does not conform to more familiar protocol employed for producing, planning, and post-flight evaluation processes established for different media. Extrapolation of measurement methodologies created for traditional media is analogous to forcing square pegs into round holes.

While establishing and implementing measurement methodologies are prerequisite to securing significant budgetary consideration, new media cannot and should not be forced into boxes where there is no possible fit. For example, the wireless Web is a radically different medium than the browser-based Internet. Rather than employing traditional demographic profiling to target the post-PC audience, marketers should begin to view this new audience as “modal targets,” segmented into distinct groups by similar attitude and behavior stemming from their use of Web-enabled devices.

But marketers cannot ignore the ongoing dilution of audience and mind share. Consumers now control how they receive promotional messages; the remote control is a powerful weapon that consumers employ at will. Because the audience now possesses the ability to separate commercial messages from content, “advertising and promotion are becoming more about how the medium develops unto itself,” says Mike Drexler, partner of Mediasmith, Inc., San Francisco.

Wireless represents a pure permission-based medium in which the target audience possesses absolute discretion to determine whether promotional and other commercial messages will be received. Therefore, promotions must be compelling enough to stand alone from the content into which they are usually contextually linked. The great news for marketers is that permission marketing techniques can be integrated into wireless campaigns.

Earlier this year, Target Wireless and George Washington University, Washington, DC, conducted a study of 500 wireless subscribers who had already Web-enabled their mobile devices. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they would opt in to programs that deliver unique, timely, and exclusive offers for products and services they themselves designated. That suggests wireless media has the potential to become a very effective delivery vehicle because there are virtually no time or geographic constraints.

While content remains critical, neglecting the nature and impact of new media delivery vehicles is nothing short of prescription without diagnosis.
Thank you, Mr. McLuhan.
Craig Krueger is president of Target Wireless, Fort Lee, NJ. He can be reached at ck@targetwireless.com.

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