Bend, Don’t Break From, Traditional Media

In yet another advertising industry forecast, Jack Myers tells us advertising will increase 3 percent this year and 7 percent next year. That’s certainly good news, but the real story is that, among all this solid and steady growth, online and “nontraditional” media will grow at a more robust rate: over 20 percent this year and 18 percent next.

Those number should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. Nontraditional media opportunities such as branded entertainment are minute compared to their better-known brothers and sisters (e.g., television spots). Nontraditional has a lot of room to grow.

Nontraditional media are certainly growing in some interesting directions, including offline. The Myers report considers cinema advertising to be nontraditional. I’m not sure about this. Though cinema ads may still be controversial (as moviegoers don’t tend to like seeing them), they’re a fairly well-established practice. But most media opportunities considered nontraditional are online, digital, and interactive.

A few recent news stories underline the growth in the number of companies that want to get into the interactive advertising space and in an ever-increasing amount of sophistication in the ability to make the space work. The stories include:

  • Nokia — a hardware manufacturer, remember — buys Enpocket, a company that places ads on cell phones.
  • MySpace creates a new advertising platform that allows ads to be targeted based on a person’s profile data.
  • SpiralFrog announces an ad-supported music download service.
  • All three stories are just from last week. Expect more this week, and the week after, and the week after that. Clearly, the interactive space is enjoying its nontraditional mantle and is actively reinventing itself and evolving to ever-more sophistication.

    It’s Still Advertising

    But hold on a second. The point of advertising isn’t to explore nontraditional media forms. It’s to sell something. It’s the industry’s job to create more opportunities to place those ads. But it’s marketers’ and their agencies’ responsibility to make sure those opportunities are used carefully and effectively. Too often, nontraditional media’s core strategy is to employ nontraditional media. That’s completely irrational.

    There are four Ms in good advertising: “meaningful,” “motivating,” “memorable,” and “measurable.” Those of us working in the nontraditional space need to keep the Ms in mind when we plan new campaigns. If you decide to place an ad in nontraditional media, you may get “memorable” simply because of its execution. But you don’t get “meaning” or “motivating.” At least not from just the media.

    The more nontraditional media develop, the more questions that get introduced. Consider those three news stories I mentioned earlier. Each one brings up a set of questions marketers need to ask about these media’s underlying efficacy. Certainly they’re new, but are they effective? For example:

  • With Nokia buying Enpocket, the promises continue that mobile advertising will eventually be effective because it’ll be really targeted. That’s a good vision, but is there some underlying technology that marketers can tap into that will actually make this happen?
  • That ads can be targeted on MySpace based on profile information is interesting. But we all know that people on social networks tend to at least exaggerate and often completely make up the information in their profiles. It may be interesting to market to someone based on how she’d like to be seen, as opposed to how she actually is, but that’s a different targeting strategy than the one being discussed.
  • An ad-supported site tends to be a good idea on paper. SpiralFrog’s challenge, though, is there are entrenched players effective at capturing consumers’ interest already. Not just iTunes, but Wal-Mart and others, plus the illegal (but popular) sites. Whether the site is ad-supported or not, a marketer must be mindful of the consumer’s perception of the site.
  • Planning for Nontraditional Media

    Marketers must explore nontraditional advertising opportunities; use is the only path to growth and strength. Remember, radio was nontraditional at one point. Marketers should be explorers of new media, not guinea pigs. We should approach each nontraditional media opportunity with an understanding that we’re the ones with all the power: we’re placing our money and our brands into someone else’s innovation or vision.

    Try nontraditional media. But know what your goals are. Then ask those in charge of the new nontraditional media how their innovations help you get closer to those goals. You can actually do this in two ways. First, toss your goals over to the service providers or media experts and ask them what they can do. The other is to not even mention what your goals are and just ask the media owners what they can do. You can match up functionality to goals on your own.

    Either way, we marketers must focus on delivering messages that motivate value-generating actions. You aren’t responsible for innovating media; media innovators are. Effective use of those media (meaning use actually drives business) will only happen when those two goals meet.

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