Productivity: The Context of No Context
All the buzz nowadays is about technology. This is no surprise, really. The whiz-bang gadgetry of the new media landscape is utterly extraordinary, so it's well-deserving of all the attention. But when we quit gawking and look closely, we see the coming of something more important than the eye-popping wizardry of widgets, wireless and Wi-Fi. It's a growing shift in when and where we use media, not just a change in what we can do with the media at hand.
Take video, for example. For decades video consumption was pretty much limited to a TV at home or the local movie theater at specified times. While we could also catch a movie on a plane or watch a ballgame at a sports bar, video media were highly place-specific. No more.
These days video is everywhere, largely because it is now portable. DVRs and downloads make it possible to watch anything at any time. Our cars come equipped with video players. iPods put movies, TV shows and videos of college lectures in our pockets. With our cell phones, we can surf the Web over to YouTube to see today's hot video. Cable TV blares at us in airports and shopping malls. Some airplanes have been retrofitted to show live TV broadcasts. Retailers air proprietary video programming in their stores. We can even embed video in our e-mail and PowerPoint presentations.
This kind of situational ubiquity is not unique to video; it's true of all media nowadays. Obviously, this alters our media usage and expectations. Less obviously but very importantly, this makes "situation" a bigger, and often a dominant, factor in determining how media work and how advertising sells. Situation shapes the modern media experience, as much as, if not more than, content, creative and the characteristics of the medium itself.
Consider the differences between watching a TV show at home versus watching the same show in an airport lounge or on an iPod or on YouTube. Viewing with family members is much more likely to happen in the comfortable, familiar, intimate environment of home.
An airport lounge is a busy, crowded place filled with strangers and distractions. An iPod is usually a solitary experience, as is YouTube - although Internet viewing may involve online interaction or even online multitasking. In every situation it's the same content and creative, and often the same characteristics of the medium. Only the situations differ, and these differences have dramatic effects on the power of the video to command attention, involvement and advertising engagement.
What new media has wrought is a fundamental change in the primary driver of media effects and advertising impact. Situation is what we need to understand most because the situation controls the extent to which advertising is able to work, and, indeed, whether or not advertising will even have a chance to work. Situations can be distracting, reinforcing, amplifying, engaging and more. Quite often, it is the "when" and the "where" that determine the "if," the "how," the "what" and the "to what extent."
This does not mean that new media advertising effects are beyond the control of marketers, though. Indeed, greater knowledge of the situations when and where advertising works can significantly boost advertising effectiveness.
>> Marketers can optimize media plans to match times of day or types of media with situational characteristics best suited for their ads.
>> Marketers can create ads that are better designed for the situation(s) in which their ads are likely to be viewed.
>> Marketers can produce ads that take advantage of or that leverage the situations in which their ads are viewed.
>> Marketers can offer ideas, incentives, events, promotions, contests, etc., to attract people to situations better suited for their ads to make an impression.
>> Marketers can build better media environments to improve the situations in which their ads are viewed.
In general, the more marketers know about the things affecting the power of their ads - whether they have direct control over these things or not - the better their ability to maximize the performance of their advertising.
New media is all about new situations. We need a broader view of media effects, one that includes not just what we're viewing or how we can manipulate it, but when and where we are.
J. Walker Smith is president of Yankelovich Inc. and the co-author of three critically acclaimed books.