I find it interesting that in an age dominated by technology and change, media is transforming at a pace that defies you to keep up, but still manages to churn out the same old, same old solutions. We find fresh media solutions being discarded for even newer solutions. You have just got a grip on it and next minute it’s passé. But then you turn around, look at the balance of the media picture, and can’t really understand why things are moving at the same old 20th century pace. Surely there should be faster evolution of what everyone is offering?
Let’s start by examining the so-called hottest digital property: Facebook. Brands fell over themselves to get traction and use this platform to communicate with their loyal followers. So they posted left, right and centre – free to their constituency. The only trouble was volume – oh, and money. Firstly, I’m positive Facebook looked at this new phenomenon and worked out that it wasn’t making any money out of it.
Now, because each user of Facebook is eligible to receive around 1 500 pieces of communication every time they log in, Facebook only prioritises 300 for them to receive. As much as 80% are discarded immediately.
What’s the net result? The average brand post reached around 12% of the intended recipients in October 2013, and now six months later, it’s sitting at a paltry 6%.
Looking at it another way: 94% of users don’t see the communication. Plus, the situation is exacerbated by people having more friends than they’re interested in – 338 each at last count.
Then there’s the popular newsfeed that has been introduced. It too will distract the consumer from brands trying to get their attention. Now, factor in that people are following more and more brands, diluting even further the ability to ‘get to them’. So move on, find a new way of communicating on the new media. (By the way, I don’t know the names of 338 people, much less care about what they’re doing day to day!)
But as fast as the new media wants to invent new ways of doing it, the traditional channels not only keep dishing up the same stuff, but marketers stick with the tried and trusted.
CBS in the United States is the most consistent deliverer of ratings. So it dishes up what the public wants. But I find it hard to believe that we will have to sit through more of ‘Two and a Half Men’, a 15th series of ‘CSI’, and more ‘Hawaii Five-O’, ‘Blue Bloods’ and ‘Criminal Minds’. Is it part of the human nature of mass America to hate change?
The New York Times is trying to buck the trend. Predictably, profit is down in their latest quarterly results, with print circulation and print ad revenue hardest hit. But transformation is there with digital subscriptions and ad revenue is up. With a total digital subscriber base now of 760 000, they must be doing something right. An interesting quote from publisher Arthur Sulzberger was, “Print will be around longer than the desktop.” Really? So will I be. But I don’t see how that is going to help his cause with the second-screen explosion of tablets and smartphones.
But let me end by discussing people who are known for their inability to think innovatively or do anything meaningfully different. I’m talking about politicians – American politicians. C’mon, one president to another – does anything really change? We know that elections never stop. If it’s not town council, sheriff, or mayor, then it’s senate, congress, or president. And what medium is growing rapidly? Good old fashioned billboards!
In fact it’s got so big that Clear Channel Outdoor has a new job – ‘director of advocacy and political advertising’. This is to serve the rush of expected new business. And, yes, they may take advantage of topicality, the speed of digital message change and new and wonderful shapes. But many are just billboards. It’s a cheap and impactful way to generate big public relations. We’ve seen this in South Africa with the DA’s use of billboards for protesting against e-tolls and load-shedding. In the US, it goes further – billboards are used to object to cuts in HIV/Aids research, complaining against the national debt, and even the right of orangutans to the vote. (One of these is not true, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one.)
This story was first published in the May 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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