Free Agent:Something Old, Something New

Free Agent: Something Old, Something New-Lisa SewardAre you kidding me? Those words reverberated in my head upon reading a recent column in this magazine. The piece, "Don't Give Up Just Yet" (October 2008), reported on a major study conducted by Yankelovich and Sequent Partners that revealed what was posited as a silver lining amidst the storm clouds facing traditional media today: Despite their rapid migration to new media, consumers like - and are more responsive to - advertising in traditional channels. The author, J. Walker Smith, suggested this finding might be a reason not to lose faith in old-school media quite yet.

I was, in a word, indignant. After all, I'm an ardent believer not only in new media and marketing solutions but also in getting on with them already - to stop talking about changing advertising and just do it. So to read what felt to me like an excuse for continuing our old ways was more than a little aggravating. But being on a plane at the time and discovering my seatmate's disinterest in hearing me sputter about this ludicrous article, I stewed alone.

And a funny thing happened somewhere over the Rocky Mountains. I calmed down and came to realize that a number of the points made in the column were actually quite fair, and, as an industry, we should discuss them. I've outlined these as I see them, each introduced with my initial, livid response:

"So we should all just cling to the past and stick with the broken old ad model in dying media, is that it?"
In all fairness, I don't really believe this was Mr. Smith's intention. Instead, I think he simply tried to point out that there is at least this one area, claimed advertising effectiveness, where traditional media still outperform emerging media. And that's important. We need to consider not only the potential of new channels, but also the reality of their current performance. And, per the Yankelovich study, that performance is ... not so hot.

"Of course people said they like ads better in traditional media. It's what they're used to." While a fair enough conclusion, this is also something not to gloss over: Consumers are accustomed to the old, interruptive model of advertising. That's not to say they prefer it, necessarily, but chances are when you poll people about advertising today, the traditional, marketer-tells-you-what-they-want-you-to-believe flavor comes to mind first. As we know, that kind of advertising monologue doesn't work well in the digital world.

"No kidding they don't like advertising in emerging media. It sucks." Duh. Having tried to modify old ads for new media and failing miserably, marketers need to accept they must blow up the old blueprints and start all over again. Clunky, inappropriate messaging in the digital space hurts both people's experiences in the new channels and brand perceptions.

"Are you seriously suggesting that advertising can't work in new media because the experience is too personal?" What Mr. Smith said was that the self-directed digital experience is "not necessarily a place where advertising is welcome." Fair enough. But that's true only if you define advertising per the old model of interruptive, one-way communication. When marketers such as Nike iD behave appropriately within the personal digital space, it's profound how powerful those communications can be.

"So we all just have one more excuse to cling to the sinking ship of old media. Great." It's possible to take Mr. Smith's point as precisely as "don't abandon the mainstream media quite yet." Another interpretation is that, for those who have not cracked a new digital communications model, it might be best to stick with the tried-and-true rather than to forge clumsily into new media. It's unwise to dive in without having created your communications expressly for the environment in which they'll be consumed.

Mr. Smith concludes with a stimulating thought: "traditional media have an inherent strength when it comes to advertising. Whether that advantage will persist remains to be seen." It certainly does. And it's up to us.

3 comments about "Free Agent:Something Old, Something New ".
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  1. Tim Rohrer from Radio One, February 19, 2009 at 8:57 a.m.

    What is there left to say? Your post is a brilliant rant with opposing comments and responses built in. Well done!

  2. Lisa Poerio-shimek from Fallon, February 19, 2009 at 7:27 p.m.

    I agree -- great article. For the other commenters -- I do believe it's less about new media (e.g., mobile, digital) and traditional media (print, TV, etc) budget allocations and more about considering a new approach to both. How about approaching communications with a recognition of how media fits into your consumer's life -- after all, they don't delineate between old and new media. All they care about is that you're not annoying. I agree "new media" and "traditional media" have to co-exist. Because they do for consumers -- and that's all that really matters. Thanks Lisa for provoking the discussion-- but I agree, let's just stop talking about it and just do it already!

  3. Durant Imboden from, February 20, 2009 at 3:54 p.m.

    I think it's important to remember that, in many cases, traditional media and new media are reaching different audiences:

    - Newspaper or magazine subscribers represent a passive, captive, demographically-defined audience, which means those media are useful for building awareness among certain types of potential prospects who may not have considered the type of product or service that the advertiser is selling.

    - Readers of Web sites (especially special-interest Web sites about topics like travel, cars, food, wine, mutual funds, etc.) have often arrived via search, which means they have a demonstrated interest in the topic at hand and may be looking for information to help them make a purchasing decision.

    By advertising to both types of audiences, the advertiser can reach different groups of prospects (both potential and "hot").

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