New Media, Same Problems

I read the news today. Oh boy.

Martin Sorrell, CEO of the WPP Group, announced to a group of his clients that his agencies have been too slow to embrace digital media. He said, “I’d have to say our traditional verticals inside our business probably, like any traditional business, are slower than they should be in embracing new technology.” Sorrell wrapped a few qualifiers into his statement to ensure he doesn’t seem too hard on his troops. But the message certainly comes through loud and clear: those running traditional agencies are finding they can’t ignore the truth: new media is here to stay.

To which I proudly and boldly say, “Big deal.”

The Medium Is the Easy Part

That the media landscape has shifted in a very big way is, of course, a powerful and undeniable fact. Nearly every research group that measures media influence has found the amount of time spent with television has gone down as Internet use has risen. It even appears Internet time actually comes from TV time. People very specifically turn off their TVs to spend time online.

Add to that a preponderance of content that’s been flowing online like water downhill. We see all kinds of content showing up: professional (Comedy Central just announced more of its shows will be available on iTunes); neoprofessional (such as the fantastic Rocketboom); even random and frequently engaging videos (such as those found on YouTube). Of course people are heading to the Web. There’s a ton of great stuff there.

And don’t forget the iPod. If King Kong were to scoop up a handful of midtown New Yorkers today for a light snack, he’d need to spit out a few dozen little, white earbuds.

So, I read Sorrell’s comments, just as I read other marketers’ comments, and wonder why he’s talking so much about media. The thinking seems to be people are on the Web, not in front of their TVs, so let’s buy us some of that Internet. The discussion is focused on new media and trying to understand them. The conversation really needs to be about new marketing and trying to understand that.

Understanding media is comparatively easier than understanding marketing. Media-publishing forces seem more than willing to bend to the needs of advertisers and their agencies, making it easier to buy, traffic, and measure Internet ads. Growth of broadband and rich media technologies has even made putting your TV spot online fairly straightforward. It’s noble that marketing’s old guard is interested in understanding new media. But they can do that in a weekend. Subscribing to RSS (define) feeds has even arrived at one-click simplicity.

It’s all in how you use them.

The really interesting challenge isn’t the speed with which you embrace new media. I’ll say it once more: new media are waiting to be embraced! They’re looking for ways to help you put an ad on their blog/podcast/vlog/what-have-you. But what do you expect to do with that ad? If you’re looking at new media simply as a trafficking problem, you need to step back for the longer view.

New media’s nature is participatory in general. So should your marketing be. A new marketing (as opposed to a new media) approach shouldn’t embrace just the forms of the medium, but also its ethos. Your ad shouldn’t be an end in itself, but an invitation; potentially for people to share with you, to explore more deeply. The most interesting new software trend of the last several years has been the notion of community. It’s the driving force behind practically all the great new applications of the Web 2.0 revolution.

The real opportunity for marketers, presented by very rapid evolution, is to take part in that communal, social aspect of media — of interaction in general. Focusing on the media won’t get us there. Focusing on why the media are being adopted will.

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