The Power of “And” in Your Media Mix

One in three millennials (people born after 1980) can’t name the TV networks.

So claims a study conducted for Bolt Media. My reaction to this was, “Why would anyone who’s grown up with millions of independent channels — the blogosphere, MySpace profiles, and YouTube — even care what a network is, much less be able to name some arbitrary subset of them?” Here’s a quick illustration of why I find the study’s reaction odd: Name the country where you car was built. I’ll even give you a hint: if you’re driving an import, there’s a good chance the answer is “America.” Or Mexico, or Canada. Or all three.

If you couldn’t positively name the country where your car was built, what’s the chance someone outside our industry could name the networks that bring them only a fraction of the media they consume? Millennials, indeed most contemporary consumers, don’t care where things come from or how they got here. Increasingly, “network” is an industry concept, not a consumer concept. A distribution channel is something only an operations or marketing manager worries about.

Blockbuster learned this the hard way: Turns out, it’s not a tape or disk consumers want, it’s the movie. The data. The experience. No, it’s not surprising a lot of millennials can’t name the networks. From their perspective, networks are irrelevant unless the millennial is young and lives at home, and mom or dad works for one. Even then, it’s probably a nebulous link.

Some were quick to point out the study was biased; because it looked at the Bolt community, the study was skewed toward online. A study of millennials skewed toward online? Millennials are online. Even if there were a bias, the conclusion still holds: whether the show comes from ABC or DEF, it really doesn’t matter. Millennials don’t care how the show got to them. What they care about is what got to them.

Consider that most of us no longer consume content by network or even channel. We consume content by show or by episode. Thank the Internet, the DVR, and now the Slingbox for this: consumers have embraced the notion of getting exactly what they want, when they want it, where they want it. An iPod and a mobile phone are just as likely video devices as the TV, albeit for potentially different content consumed for differing purposes. Smart e-marketers are running with this.

How? By tuning their channel mix to include little chunks of actual content consumers pick up and pass around. My last column discussed Film Loop and its photocasting platform. It’s clearly commercial and proving successful. My personal favorites are the “motors” loops: I added a Nascar and two new Formula 1 loops to my FilmLoop player yesterday.

Moving from photos to videos, how long will it be before YouTube carries as much commercial as non-commercial fare? Actually, it looks as if I’m late to the party again. As I write, of the first six “Featured” selections, three are outright commercial content. Check out this one on click fraud. These commercial videos are getting passed around. A lot. And they should. They’re legitimate content and well-enough made. They were created for this specific purpose. The trailer for “Fast Food Nation” is particularly good, unless you happen to be eating or digesting fast food while watching.

A quick sobriety check: if one in three millennials can’t name a single network, presumably the other two can name at least one. In fact, one in four were actually able to name all the Big 4. Again, the message is really more moderate: think about your overall media mix — it’s not “traditional or,” it’s more likely “traditional and.”

Even Red Bull, a brand built through savvy word-of-mouth and event marketing, is running spots on TV now. It gets the power of “and.” There’s still something to be said for the millions of broadcast eyeballs. When you’re already the dominant brand in the segment that spends more time with games than TV, maybe it’s time to turn to TV to pick up a new segment. Last week, I actually got my mom to drink a Red Bull when I visited.

So a lot of younger people can’t name the networks. Does it matter? Probably not, unless you’re a network. If you’re a brand, the fact that millennials, like the generations that preceded them, still define themselves at least partially through the products they adopt as their own and through the brands that share the values they hold. It’s less about the infrastructure that got your message to them and much more about the fact it got to them. That, combined with the requirement that your product delivers when given the chance.

Some things never change.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.