Contact: Reclaiming the Water Cooler

Devices are gateways. People use and consume media. They don't really think much about their device so much until it doesn't work. Like a doorway, you don't think about what it is or what it does until it doesn't do what you expect it to. Content is; it is the intent and the goal of its audience.

We have to stop treating media - planning it and placing it - as though it were the repository of the content and information audiences want. The medium used to engage that content is merely a delivery system. And now there are loads and loads of devices and vehicles to get to that content. (Forget for a moment that smart phones may be bringing everything back to one place.)

The challenge of a fractured media consumption environment is getting that water-cooler phenomenon going that used to happen with television in the old days. Think about it: A hit TV show today would barely break the top 10 30 years ago. The challenge advertisers have now is in associating themselves with media that can connect them to that water cooler.

Example: In 1973, All in the Family aired an episode where the Bunkers found a swastika painted on their front door. An activist was on the scene, advocating a violent response against whomever had committed the act, but when he left the house, he was blown up in his car while Edith and Archie and the rest of the Bunker family looked on in horror from their front stoop. Caused quite a stir, and a lot of people were talking about it. And no wonder. Not only was the content compelling and controversial, but that season the show was No. 1 in the ratings, with 21,578,400 households. At that time, there were 64.8 million TV households. That means over one-third of all television households were watching All in the Family. Everyone talked about it because more than one out of three television-viewing households were tuned in. Today, American Idol is television's most successful show. So far this season, it's done an average of 17.77 million TV households, out of a total of 114.5 million television households. That's 15.5 percent of everyone, or a little less than one out of every six households.

Though I've never watched American Idol (it's true!), I know who the hosts are and, more often than not, know who the contestants of note are (either for their talent or their lack of it). It is because there are many gateways to this content. And like any working door, they have things passing through them in both directions. I may not have ever seen Sanjaya on the tube, but because he was the content being delivered via so many other platforms, I know who he is.

Advertisers can still regularly be a part of the water-cooler conversation by participating in it, being the topic of it, or associating themselves with something that is - provided they don't limit themselves to thinking about their advertising based solely on how it is delivered. They need, instead, to focus on content. Advertisers need to be thinking about media, not the medium, when they are strategizing and planning.

Media companies providing content, advertisers seeking to exploit it, and the agencies that service those advertisers, are all going to have to start thinking about media differently than a collection of dissimilar platforms that are lumped loosely together. And they have to stop treating each platform as a "place" where content resides. Content is everywhere, but it lives nowhere.

One of the challenges of the ongoing fracturing of the media landscape has been that the resulting embarrassment of niches leaves populations wanting for experiences in common. Events that were shared unified people, regardless of their personal perspective on that event. In the old days, things like war, protest, the Olympics, the moon landing or an All in the Family episode, were all carried by the few media of their day, which all populations consumed.

The Obama inauguration, for instance: In spite of the multitudes of insular floes of media we all float on, the world was able to share in it, watch it on tv, watch it on news sites, stream it over their iPhones. People emailed, posted thoughts and images on Facebook, and Twittered each image, each word of the speech, and each reaction to them. The content didn't belong to any medium; the content just was.

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