As a people, Americans are quite impressed by the power of media. It captivates us. Our mainstream media splashes Super Bowl ratings drama across the front page of our daily papers and Web sites. Media helped take the groundswell of support for the iPod and make it the No. 1 portable digital music player in the world. Media have made Tide, BMW, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Ford, and AT&T among the biggest brands ever. The rise and stumble of Martha Stewart's and Rosie O'Donnell's media properties held our attention for weeks on end. The power of media rolled out the new Coke, and then rolled out Classic Coke right after it to save the day.
During the aggressive expansion of broadcast since the 1950s, the content that media delivered became famous, too. Radio made rock heroes out of The Beatles, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and many more. TV helped create countless legends whose names and images will live on forever: Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Mister Rogers, and Jerry Seinfeld, to name a few.
Beyond popular culture, can media really have an impact on the world? More than bringing delight through music, drama, comedy, information, and news, can media in fact save the world?
We answer that question with a resounding yes.
On a Sunday evening in the 1970s, Jerry Lewis appeared on TV for 24 straight hours. It was the early years of the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon. The seemingly unending variety show featured one star after another singing, dancing, telling jokes, and asking Americans to pledge what they could to help raise money to cure more than 40 neuromuscular diseases.
The telethon has been on the air since 1966, helping fund the MDA's work. Last year it raised nearly $55 million. Enabled by the power of media, the research funded by the MDA has driven significant breakthroughs in the fight to eradicate neuromuscular diseases. MDA, currently the world's largest private sector supporter of research on neuromuscular diseases, awards annual grants to more than 400 physicians and scientists.
And who can forget the worldwide broadcast of "America: A Tribute to Heroes" on Sept. 21, 2001, to raise money for victims of the tragedy just 10 days before? More than 35 cable and network channels broadcast the two-hour special. It was Webcast on Yahoo, carried on more than 8,000 radio stations, and watched in more than 200 countries. Organizers expected to raise $30 million; the total was more than $150 million.
The Advertising Council supports many worthy causes through marketing and creative efforts. The generosity of media exposes millions of people to these causes, and they respond with donations of money and time. Among the Ad Council's many causes: drug abuse prevention, energy efficiency, global warming, hurricane relief, blood donation, and crime prevention.
Finally, today's media changes the world by educating us. Targeted cable networks show us how to cook, decorate, and travel. They teach us history and science. They show us what our politicians are doing (or not doing) and provide "fair and balanced" reporting on those issues. They expand our knowledge of sports (which, many will argue, has made us all better athletes). Better yet, the Internet does all this and allows us to contribute to the discussion. Interactive media allows us to save the world faster and better than before.
How is all this possible? We're open to it. Each generation has wanted to reshape the world to their liking, from the Baby Boomers' desire to stop a war and impeach a president to the desires of Generation Y/Millennial Generation for personal safety, ethnic diversity, and supportive technology. The powerful tool of media provides education and information on issues while encouraging communication and community. We turn to media for help and use it to help our causes. The power of media to save the world is ingrained in us from an early age and handed down from generation to generation.
We need to be careful with our use of media's power. We can certainly use it to launch a new brand, reposition a current brand, or create a new category, but we can also use it to save the world.
Steve Farella, president-CEO, and Audrey Siegel, executive vice president and director of client services, are cofounders of TargetCast TCM. (firstname.lastname@example.org)