Convergence – The Present Tsunami Hitting Advertising

From my article entitled “Total Convergence” from January 1998, I quote “Essentially, the way individuals get information, products, and services will converge to a point where they can get these things from anywhere, at anytime, and in any way.” Today, we can look back and see that convergence has indeed happened in many ways. In this column, we will look at some of these examples and discuss the potentially massive implications for advertising and marketing.

Convergence Examples

What happens when time spent reading and using news online dwarfs reading news in newspapers? What happens when more people listen to music and podcasts on their personal media players than on the radio? What happens when young customers spend more time socializing with friends on Facebook than reading magazines? What happens when users send 50 times more text messages than emails per day? What happens when users watch online video on their smartphones, tablets, and computers more than watching TV on TVs. Every single medium that was part of the mainstay of big advertisers – newspapers, radio, magazines, email, and TV – is undergoing massive change.

Not only has the time spent with each of these media decreased, the size of the audience has also dropped, in some cases dramatically, and the way users interact with the media is changing. Users are being pulled in sundry directions by more attractive or useful alternatives or entirely new use cases. Put bluntly, the audiences are moving on or have already moved on (as in the case of newspaper classified ads). So all the forms of advertising that were based on “reach and frequency” – the size of the audience and the number of times they are hit with the advertising message – are being forced to change as well.

Implications for Marketers

If TV audiences are shrinking to the point that mass audiences are hard to come by while online video usage is skyrocketing, does an advertiser just take TV ads and stick them on online videos as pre-roll, post-roll, or interstitial/in-stream (i.e., interruptive) ads? No. It is also wrong to still be trying to find mass audiences online – the nature of online video, or any online content for that matter, is that individuals find and use what they want, when they want it. This is not only fragmentation taken to the Nth degree, but it is also individualization. This makes the very notions of scale and targeting irrelevant and obsolete.

If teens are spending more time on social networks and texting than on demographically-targeted magazines and email, does an advertiser just take print ads and stick them on Facebook as display ads or buy SMS lists instead of email lists? No. It is also wrong to still be trying to target more by using more personal information and users’ social graphs. People are there to socialize with friends and not look at ads; they want their personal information and privacy kept private; and even the closest friends may not be the best recommenders of specific things – for example, I would not trust my computer enthusiast friend to make restaurant recommendations to me; nor vice versa.

If the “always-availableness” of information has shifted the balance of power to consumers and away from advertisers, does an advertiser just shout more loudly, rudely, or in-your-face and expect that to work? No. It is also wrong to still be thinking about “persuasion” through advertising. Modern consumers are highly skilled at tuning out the 3,000-plus ads they get hit with every day and their distrust of advertisers has grown to the point that ads have little to no persuasive power left. Savvy consumers turn to independent experts and their peers for information. Even if an ad inspired a consumer to act, they would still go online and do more research before they buy.

Things to Do to Take Advantage of Convergence

So, has the advertising world as we know it come to an end? Yes, pretty much. But before advertisers can truly move into the new world, they must first admit they have a problem. Just like the welcome to an Alcoholics Anonymous group meeting: “Hi, my name is Michael…and I am a traditional advertiser. In this new world, I still think of reach and frequency; I still try to shout my message at customers, and I still try to target them by using their personal information.” Once they understand the nature of their problem, they can begin the process of embracing and using the powerful new tools, tactics, and methodologies that are unique to the new digital landscape.

Here’s a few suggestions to get them started:

  1. Throw out the baby (targeting) with the bathwater (reach and frequency) – not only does shouting more and louder not do any good for the advertiser, so-called “at-scale” audiences don’t exist anymore as users find and consume content whenever and wherever they want. So instead of trying to target needles in haystacks, let the needles find you when they want to.
  2. Let them spread it for you (social amplification) – doing social media doesn’t mean sticking display ads on Facebook billions of times or bribing celebrities to tweet about you. If users really love your product or service, make it easy for them to spread it for you; for example, by way of a “like” or share button or via their mobile device.
  3. Do not invade their personal mobile space, but make sure they can invite you in when they want to; don’t send them spam SMS even if they opted into some list you’re renting. Instead, let them request updates and other useful information if they want it and be sure to make it easy for them to find your information when using a mobile device (hint, hint, don’t make your site all Flash).


So as every pillar of traditional advertising is being wiped out by the tsunami of converging media, converging technology, and converging habits, advertisers should take this opportunity to pivot their entire approach to engaging audiences, not by shouting at them but by listening to them, making it easy for them to find you, and respectfully asking them to pass along what they want to pass along.

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