Delivering Instantaneous Awareness
After 9/11, everyone knew where Afghanistan was located and even how to pronounce it. We all seemed to find out at the same time that Anna Nicole Smith died, Japan was hit by a tsunami, and Lindsay was arrested.
When a major event occurs, media channels all seem to rally together in unison to spread the word. No one entity orchestrates the announcement. They all seem to know when something is big, and they immediately go into "announcement mode."
I call the outcome instantaneous awareness. Immediately, everyone knows the exact same thing.
Over the years, I've tried to buy it. I thought it would be great to launch a product on one day, and everyone across America would know about it and know the same facts. But sadly, I was never able to convince any media company to sell it to me.
I've spoken to Time Warner and News Corp, which seemed to be intrigued, but everyone said: "Wow, that sounds like a cool idea" -- but no one ever came back with a way to do it.
I reached out to them instead of companies like Hearst and Conde Nast because it seemed obvious that you'd need TV, radio, magazines, online, movies, newspapers, etc. to deliver and outcome of instantaneous awareness. A one, two, or even three-media-channel company could never be able to deliver it. Of course, I know how difficult such a coordinated effort would be for these media companies -- especially those without a digital core.
While I'm fully aware that most brands are not as interesting or as important as some of the aforementioned events, and public interest is a major component driving IA, I just assumed a brand would have to buy more weight to compensate for a lack of interest. Instead of the public pulling the information, we would just push a little a harder.
I also know that most brands could never manage the coordination necessary to execute an IA campaign or even afford it. Given the price of a one-day YouTube takeover, I'm sure IA across multiple channels would cost $100MM+ for a one-day investment. But nonetheless, I've always been fascinated by the possibility.
Over the past couple of decades, the closest we've come to achieve instantaneous awareness is buying a Super Bowl spot. That is, until Twitter came along and changed everything.
Twitter has managed to do what I imagined it would take the entire force of Time Warner to achieve: immediately inform the world of a particular event. For example, just recently, we all found out about the death of Osama Bin Laden on Twitter. That's because we've been trained to go to Twitter to find out what's breaking, and people use Twitter to share the latest info, Twitter has become the platform for instantaneous awareness.
Through re-tweets and the use of hashtags, Twitter has also become a means for not only breaking the news, but amplifying the importance of a story and analyzing events. Once the story breaks, people immediately retweet the news with their own comments and links. When they start attaching hashtags, they add meaning to their tweet and aid in searches.
The Twitter-sphere has developed its own crowd-sourced layering effect to shape the story, just like the newsrooms across all the different media channels typically do.
While I originally approached the big media companies to create an IA product, I secretly hoped that some site would figure out how to create IA. Sadly, that never happened. While lots of Web sites can deliver millions of uniques in a single day (e.g., YouTube, Yahoo!), no consumer believes that they're seeing a banner at the same time as all of their friends.
Requesting a page is still a very personal response controlled by the user. TV was still much better at IA; for instance, all my friends watching the "Glee" season finale saw the new Someday (Justin Bieber's new fragrance) commercial at the very same time.
As the result of TV being the only medium able to do that, brand advertising flowed to TV -- and TV was able to command super-high CPMs (and CPM increases). But that characteristic is no longer the domain of TV. Twitter can now claim to broadcast and spread news far and wide instantaneously.
And, unlike typical banner advertising, which remains a solitary experience, the fact that my friends and followers are retweeting and tweeting about an event proves to me that they we all know about an occurrence. That's powerful.
Now that Twitter is around the 300MM user mark, its ability to compete with multimedia companies to drive IA is growing immensely. I say every media company that specializes in reaching large audiences simultaneously has to watch out. A dot-com has yet again disrupted another tried-and-true business. This time, it's about how we find out about what's important, which is a very big deal.