Roll Your Own Media

If the exploding Web is the new TV, why is media spending in general flattening or even declining (in constant dollars) relative to the rest of the economy? Part of the answer doubtless lies in the way online marketing and word -of -mouth (WOM) work together. It’s not as costly to spread a message when you have 500,000 happy consumers helping out. But even if WOM isn’t a silver bullet for all things marketing (and we know there isn’t one), given most consumers’ connected nature, social media is more than likely at work.

Another part of the answer is the perceived decline in the effectiveness and relevance of the most expensive media, online and off-. It’s telling that the majority of online advertising, for example, is attributed to a handful of major players. Online, it’s a very TV-like experience. Like TV spending, most online buys are for interruptive rather than participative advertising. It’s expensive to be on any major advertising portal in a big way. Even a small dip changes the leverage of media properties in exacting rate hikes. During the last couple of years, we’ve seen the result as consumers look elsewhere for not only information (something they’ve been doing 10-plus years) but also content. YouTube may or may not have a business model, but it does draw a crowd.

Where does that leave marketers? Increasingly it means taking their stories directly to consumers through emerging social media forms. Rather than creating an ad and inserting it into programming designed only to carry advertising, why not create your own content and build a channel online that your consumers will love? At the end of the day, do consumers really care who loves Raymond? It’s a great show, but if it had never come along, the earth would still rotate. Surely, a savvy marketer with a budget and some snap could do at least that well by investing in himself rather than supporting programmed entertainment, often little more than an excuse to sell more ads. In fact, more than few marketers are now looking to develop their own content.

Look no further than two major marketers, each working from different points to accomplish the same thing. Coming soon, it’s “Bud TV” from Anheuser-Busch, tapping the combination of user-generated content trends and (I’d bet) a good dose of oversight and brand stewardship. If Anheuser-Busch can leverage the YouTube happening, the site will be a hit. And why not? Put on your “I’m 21” hat and compare the network lineup with YouTube’s combination of mundane and bizarre content, delivered “when and where you want it.” Bud TV’s a no-brainer.

P&G, meanwhile, continues to make amazing headway with its ordinary but extraordinarily well-done consumer packaged goods (CPG) Web sites. Millions of loyal buyers use these sites every day. Though they may not make world headlines, problems like a white washload that’s come out pink are a big deal. It happened to me just last week. I found the remedy online. The kinds of sites P&G is a master at creating seldom win awards, yet they drive solid revenue. Evidently, more CFOs are noticing that, because a quick look around shows that what had been brochureware look and feel more like actual solutions to specific consumer problems. The audience is paying attention, and these marketers are smiling.

Yet media spending is in a funk. Clutter abounds. Perhaps the two are related? I turned on the TV the other night. I tuned into a network channel and after four minutes of ads and “coming up next” announcements, I got fed up and went to the DVR.

Online is no better. Look at the articles on sites like AdAge.com and Yahoo.com. The actual content on each page is about 25 to 50 percent of the total page display. The rest is advertising and promotion. It’s no wonder Johnny can’t read: reading takes time, and Johnny’s been taught an attention span is measured in seconds. News coverage as a draw has been slipping steadily for some time as advertising is worked in. Even the “Scientific American” site has suffered. I’m old enough to remember when the actual magazine (as in “before there was online”) wouldn’t permit any advertising within an article, typically 15-20 pages. Now, not only are the articles shorter, but ads (especially online) actually interfere with the thought flow. There are even little notes around the ads to the effect of “the article continues after this.” Excuse me, but I was actually paying attention to the article.

The trend in media spending reflects in part the increasing clutter in major media and a shift in the importance consumers place on centralized content as a result. It’s not surprising that savvy e-marketers are looking to roll their own. With eyeballs up for grabs and no real quality hurdle for content, it’s a perfect opportunity to experiment, develop a channel or two, and start to zero-in on promising niche markets. With well-built, business-oriented Web tools and some original content, Web-based personal TV looks like a marketing winner.

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