Death to New Media

I recently stumbled across a “USA Today” article predicting new media ad spending will hit $160.8 billion by 2012, an 82 percent increase over 2008. For those of us in the online ad biz, that’s a pretty nice vision of the future.

But I’m pretty irritated by the article.

Why? Because the title, “New media expected to get more ad dollars,” belies a mindset that’s still dogging us about 15 years after the Internet started to come into the public consciousness. It’s irritating because it seems so dated and it continues to call what we do new media, making things tougher for all of us in the business and standing in the way of us reaching that nifty $160.8 billion in the next four years.

Calling what we do new media puts what we do in the category of other. It reinforces the notion that traditional media is the real stuff, and online media (or other forms of digital communications) are nice-to-haves, time and budgets permitting. It reinforces the notion that the Web is still the domain of cybergeeks who aren’t like the normal consumers many advertisers are trying to reach. Labeling online media “new” also implies there’s still something experimental and untested about it all.

That’s baloney. Most major advertisers know it’s baloney, too. But a large number of companies and clients out there are still a little iffy about moving their budgets to reflect the current reality of media consumption. If you work at one of the big agencies, you may not ever encounter this. But I bet if you’re at a small or midsized agency (like I am), you encounter clients nervous about new media on a regular basis. I know I do.

Let’s look at the facts. Today, Internet demographics are a pretty close match to U.S. population demographics in general, as any report you read at the Pew Internet & American Life Project show. Seventy-eight percent of the U.S. Internet population use broadband, according to Nielsen Online, and nearly 97 percent have the latest version of Flash installed, cites Adobe, giving them access to just about every form of multimedia content. Pew reports that more than half of adult U.S. Internet users regularly view video content online, and 19 percent of them watch video on any given day.

As far as content creation goes, U.S. teens seem pretty comfortable with the idea. Over 64 percent of U.S. teens who use the Internet create their own content. Thirty-five percent of online teen girls have blogs, and over 50 percent of these girls also post photos online.

Even mobile Internet access has become mainstream. More than 60 percent of Americans participate in mobile data activities while away from home and work (judging from the BlackBerrys I see sprouting from hips and bags everywhere, it’s a lot more). Interestingly enough — and counter to digital-divide stereotypes — African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are more likely than whites to use mobile data services.

I could go on, but there’s enough evidence available via a five-minute Google search to fill this column with stats until my fingers bleed from typing. If you want more, it’s not hard to find.

Listen up, folks: it’s not new media anymore. It’s media and it’s as closely integrated with American life as all other media at this point. Go ask teenagers if they think this stuff is new. They’re liable to laugh you out of the room. They get it better than anyone else: it’s part of the fabric of our lives. Treating it that way allows you (and your clients) to make more reasonable decisions and create more effective campaigns.

Death to new media! Long live media!

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