Everything Has Changed… Has Advertising?

My eyes stung with salty tears as I stared blankly into the glow of my laptop monitor. I can’t help but reflect on it now. Never before had I typed so fast. I typed to find friends and loved ones via email and short text messaging. I typed feverishly. I typed to tell loved ones I was OK. More importantly, I typed to find life.

Our phones were up, but mobile phones in New York City rang busy due to system overload. Email and instant messages became my lifeblood. Friends from New York asked me to call their parents and let them know that they were OK. The fingers that sped through “Are you OK?” messages a few days ago feel unfamiliar now.

I felt helpless. Suddenly, my life as a media person seemed unimportant. My friends and counterparts said they felt the same. I watched those fearless firefighters and police officers: surreal. Not only did the world change, but my world changed, too.

I now struggle to put fingers to keyboard a week later. I find it hard to have it be “business as usual.” However, I’m happy to be able to write to you, happy to be alive.

It’s hard to look back at last week with my media hat on, but I must. What happened to media last week?

Sure television was there. Television always is. We were all fixated on it. Grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and siblings gathered together in living rooms across the world. Programming was postponed. The horrible news took over just about every station, even MTV. The same images flashed to our eyes at once. There were no words. Television was our bond. My friend Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor at Boston University’s College of Communication, expressively termed it, “One Nation, Tuning In.”

According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 81 percent of Americans got their crisis information from television. Advertising was pulled offline. The New York Times reported that $40-100 million was lost per day on broadcast and cable networks.

Web sites pulled ads to make news content more accessible. However, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, the active Internet at-work universe dipped by approximately 1 million users. I suspect this is due to companies that closed early or altogether. Out of the more than 34 million active users, 76 percent of that week’s traffic was on Wednesday.

Nielsen reported a spike in home Internet usage by approximately 3 million users, bringing the total active at-home universe to just over 75 million. Web sites posted lists of victims, survivors, and missing persons. Technology allowed such updates every 15 minutes.

Hollywood and the entertainment community have postponed or altogether dumped shows with violent themes. Most offline and online advertising was postponed as well. As a result, the industry lost a great deal of money. American TV networks and local TV stations are estimated to have lost about $100 million a day in ad revenue. Myers reported that American markets would spend less than $200 billion on U.S. advertising this year. For once, it was “just advertising,” and the money didn’t seem as important.

Since last week, messages of support and condolences have flooded the pages of our newspapers and other publications. They are tagged onto radio and television programming. They appear as pop-ups, pop-unders, banners, text links, and email messages on Web sites universally. Most of these ad units link to the Red Cross and other relief sites. Amazon.com quickly raised $6 million in relief funds for the Red Cross. Yahoo raised $18 million, and AOL raised $13 million. Many other companies stepped up to the plate to do their part as well.

Now what? Well, I have picked up my chin as I continue to mourn the loss of others. I’ve reached out together with coworkers and colleagues, to put our collective mind toward raising additional money and support. I painstakingly wrote this article. I realized advertising is important and can make a difference. Advertising has changed, but I know that we must move on.

I’ll leave you with an interesting question I picked up from a recent New York Times article: Do films and television mirror the culture, or do they lead it? Write to me and share your thoughts.

Peace.

Editor’s note: For more on the impact of the September 11 attack, check the special section of internet.com’s E-Commerce/Marketing Channel, The Trade Center Disaster: Industry Response.

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