Not All Media Are Created Equal

When I planned and bought media, the question "Did you get the memo?" was asked in earnest. At the time, flowcharts were broken down by media we now refer to as platforms. Print, television (both network and spot), cable, radio, newspapers and out of home were all potential sub-sections, with individual vendors listed beneath them.

These media, with the exception of out of home, deliver advertisers access to a consumer engaged with third-party-produced content. Consumers subconsciously grant this access in exchange for the content they have chosen to engage with. It would be strange and awkward not to see ads in our favorite magazines, or commercials during our favorite television shows. And it is a misconception that consumers don't like the advertising. They don't like bad advertising. We are more like puppies panting for a treat; we will sit and wait for an ad to be served. If the ad does not serve our tastes, we bark and move on.

This habit of putting out a welcome mat for an ad to maintain our attention (or often lose it) stems from the type of engagement arrangement we have with third-party-produced content. Which is why media that attract consumer attention through well-produced content should be more highly valued than media or platforms that don't.

Case in point. What brings more value to the advertiser, an ad page in this week's issue of The New Yorker, or a billboard hovering over the highway entering New York City through the Midtown Tunnel? Both media complement a media plan, so both provide value -- but if you were to decipher which delivers a more engaged audience, it is the magazine reader, whose eyes and mind are on the page -- and not the driver, who is engaged with the road.

Which brings me to my point for this guest column. Where do you place the Internet and the emerging platform of mobile in this scale of engagement?

The Internet confuses us because it's the first medium that produced fundamentally different forms of engagement under one medium. Magazines and newspapers deliver readers; television brings viewers and radio listeners. The Internet delivers users who can be readers, viewers or listeners. And in these cases, the level of engagement mimics that of its predecessors in the content production business.

The confusion comes when users are not engaged with third-party content but rather communicating with one another through instant messaging, email, video chat and the various tools provided by social networks. This level of engagement may be more intense -- but this experience does not come with the habit of accepting advertising interruptions.

That's why advertising on mobile handheld devices is dangerously over-hyped, and why advertising on social networks, or ads served while users read and send emails, are deemed less valuable. We not only lack the habit of accepting an ad during this type of engagement experience, we disdain it if one pushes through.

You are out to dinner with a friend. The waiter is the advertiser and the meal is your content. You engaged in a conversation with your friend, but because the waiter is responsible for delivering the content you ordered, you will hear what he has to say -- but you don't ask him to sit down and join you, either. Now re-picture this scenario -- but instead of being out in a restaurant, you are eating a home-cooked meal at your friend's house, deeply engaged in a conversation, when the doorbell rings. It's a waiter. He wants to sell you something.

Even if it's pecan pie with ice cream, you will react poorly to this unwarranted visit, because the waiter is not needed for you to enjoy your home-cooked content. Your reaction would parallel how you feel when marketers call or text your cell phone.

What we engage with determines how open we are to ads. So instead of creating flowcharts broken down by media, shouldn't we look at breaking down vendors based on the type of engagement they deliver? If we did so, wouldn't advertisers shape their creative based on this insight versus the physical nature of the medium itself?

Amy Corr returns next week with highlights of creative media placements. Thanks for taking the time to engage with my thoughts in her absence.

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