Column: Gestalt - The Ship at the Bottom of the Sea

  • by July 29, 2005
Leafing through a history book recently, I saw a marvelous photograph from 1915 of a large ship docked in New York City. At the pier was a line of taxis  all horse and carriages, of course. Emblazoned on the ship's bow, in stately letters, was the name "Lusitania."

The photo jumped out at me because it captured a world that would disappear within a few years. It would, almost overnight, become impossible to find a horse-drawn cab. And the Lusitania, as we all know, would lie at the bottom of the sea.

I recently attended an advertising conference that reminded me, in a way, of this photograph. At one end of the spectrum, I spoke with some very intelligent advertising executives who argued, with great passion, that the Internet does not offer them mass reach. "Even on the portals, Chris, I will never reach the number of people I can reach at prime time on television," said one.

I asked this speaker two questions: First, why was he so convinced, in this age of remote controls and personal video recorders, that he was actually getting the reach he thought he was? Second, with the Internet offering progressively better and more sophisticated targeting, why had he relied on a nuclear bomb to land on mass audiences, when the smart bomb of the Web could actually hit  with greater measurability  the audiences he wanted to attract?

He gave me a list of classic, traditional arguments supporting his idea that traditional media still delivered the best results. He argued that the metrics for traditional media were tried and true, and while the Internet added complementary value, it was not, in and of itself, the driver.

At another end of the spectrum, the chief marketing officer of a large industrial company told me: "He has it all wrong. It is about media mix  television, print, radio, online are all a part of the equation. They all have an equal contribution here in their own ways." Finding that encouraging, I asked him what percent of his total budget goes to online. The response: "About 5 percent." I asked, "What percent of your target audience is regularly online?" The sheepish response: "About 75 percent." I asked, "How do those proportions make sense?" The even more sheepish response: "They don't  but television works."

Look, I know television and print and radio "work." Or, I think I know it. What I no longer understand, in this day and age, is why there is still any debate about the magnitude of value offered online. The car is faster and cheaper and easier to clean than the horse! The ship sank, and the airplane cuts travel time by a wide margin!

The warning shots have been fired. Procter & Gamble recently announced a significant reconsideration of television advertising. Pfizer will cut back its sales force and focus on useful ways to reach its audiences where they actually are, which is online. Hell, even the media

companies understand this. cbs, in a fantastically creative step, has launched a 24-hours, seven-day-a-week video/interactive/news offering online only. Why? One exec said to me, "If msnbc, cnn, or Fox wanted to start a 24-hour service today, they'd do it online. It is where the audiences are, and it's significantly more cost-effective."

The Internet reaches audiences for the most part at a time of day no other medium reaches them (at work and on the desktop). It reaches audiences who now are completely in control of their media decisions: They want what they want when and how they want it  and they get it. They are, therefore, more easily found with greater certainty. And the right advertising presented to the right people who benefit from the messages isn't advertising, it is content  useful, engaging, and influential. Measurement capabilities for the Internet dwarf anything that has come before. The chance to create a real relationship and dialogue with consumers is unprecedented.

In 1915, no one thought the horse and buggy and the ship would be replaced as major transportation tools. In 2010, marketers will look back on how they allocated their budgets and ask: "What were we thinking?" That's if they don't embrace the world as it really is, and turn to the Internet now.

Christopher Schroeder is CEO and president of ChoiceMedia, and formerly the CEO and publisher of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. (

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