Traditional Media Falters. Attack!

Not a day goes by without a report on the declining health of offline (or traditional, if you prefer) media. Not only are broadcast, print, and, to a lesser extent, radio losing audience, but advertisers are howling over the methodologies used to measure traditional media audiences as well. They’re getting burned by audience shortfalls.

A brief recap of recent events:

Four weeks ago, it was newspapers. The October 15 cover of Editor & Publisher — the bible of the newspaper industry — questioned whether the fact advertisers are starting to demand actual daily circulation numbers and are no longer content with averaged weekday, Saturday, and Sunday figures is “good for the industry.”

A week later, Ad Age reported the magazine industry is contemplating revolt against its circulation audit (ABC) for suggesting it should provide advertisers with real subscriber and sales data that’s verified more often than every six months.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported the broadcast TV industry is irate because Nielsen reported a dramatic drop in young male TV viewership. The industry suggested the problem is Nielson, not the fact these guys now spend their time playing video games, watching DVDs, and surfing the Web.

What does this mean? Has the liberal press conspiracy we hear so much about targeted traditional media companies to pick on?

I’ve worked in interactive advertising for over 12 years. I’ve helped sell, deliver, or measure targeted ads in almost every imaginable form of interactive media: audiotext, videotext, computer bulletin boards, proprietary online services, the Web, email, mobile phones, desktop applications, streaming audio and video, iTV, computer games, digital billboards, and navigation systems in cars. I’ve waited patiently for the moment when competitors in offline media would be at a disadvantage. That moment has arrived.

Now’s the time to strike. Now’s the time to attack the weaknesses of traditional media offerings from a position of “data strength.” Here’s how:

  • Provide advertisers with more and better numbers than the other guy. Among online’s many advantages over traditional media are real numbers. Though all broadcast and most print media only provide advertisers with projections of their real audiences (based on a fairly small sample base), the Internet provides real-time head counts, updated almost to the moment. This will be increasingly important as ratings and circulation continue to plummet. Marketers see that. Even with make goods, their traditional media return on investment (ROI) is wide open to questions.

  • Provide information about their customers advertisers don’t already know. Every medium tries to profile its audiences to qualify and quantify viewers/readers/listeners for advertisers. Again, they’re working off small-sample base projections that can be dangerously wrong or, at best, misleading. With advanced technology, the Internet collects not only demographic data about much of its user base but also behavioral data so ads can be targeted against inferred interests. These ads get a far higher response than even contextual ads.
  • Challenge other media using measurable results. Perform better, or write off the bill. Other media ask consumers to recall their response to ads. The Internet can show response as well as action taken toward further inquiry or a sale. Adjustments to the content, design, and format of online ads can be made almost on the fly, providing a much greater chance of success. Imagine if a $750,000 broadcast spot had to be reshot repeatedly until it proved it could move product.

    Jim Spanfeller, president of, showed the way last year when he threw down the gauntlet with a performance guarantee. Now’s the time to challenge traditional media head to head, using measurable results as the benchmark. There’s no reason why this should be a fair fight. Challenge traditional media to deliver one audience group it already lost to the Internet: C-level executives; 18-34-year-old males; small business owners; or heads of two-income households with school-age children.

  • Play off immediacy and urgency. You hardly need PowerPoint to illustrate traditional media audiences are in an accelerated decline because of the Internet. Why else did The Wall Street Journal announce earlier this week it will combine on- and offline readers in a single subscriber report? People are online at the expense of offline media. The way they interact with advertising is changing rapidly. Consumers want more information right now about potential purchases (think auto buying). They’re even becoming impatient with call centers. The Internet can not only seize attention, it also provides the instantaneous information gratification 21st-century consumers want and demand. No other medium provides an uninterrupted continuum from impression to information to purchase.

This is the future. Start selling it now!

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