Mitch Joel for Harvard Business Review: Two Terms Marketers Need for Today's Media Landscape

May 9th, 2013

Harvard Business Review
by Mitch Joel
May 9, 2013

We knew that the Internet would bring with it a whole wave of new media disruption. We were unprepared for just how massive the disruption has been. You needn’t look any farther than this one staggering statistic to understand the scale of change: Google’s advertising revenue is larger than that of the entire print industry’s revenue.

In the past short while, we have seen a rise in new ways for advertisers to connect with consumers like never before. We’re also seeing an increasing amount of media budgets shifting from traditional channels to digital advertising. You can’t throw a marketer down a flight of stairs these days without hearing terms like real-time bidding, big data, retargeting and native advertising tumbling off of his tongue. It’s beginning to make social media, mobile marketing and plain-old digital advertising seem somewhat antiquated.

So, where do you, the business leader, place those ad dollars? Do you spend them with the latest and greatest shiny object? Do you stick to your traditional guns? Do you sprinkle them around in the hopes of hitting the jackpot on the advertising table of roulette?

What we need is a framework that helps us transcend the many different ways that consumers are connecting with brands and lets us see the bigger picture.

What if we tossed away the terms we have used to date? What if we forgot all about traditional media, social media, mobile marketing, banner ads, QR codes and the rest and simplified the advertising process by simply asking if the media in question is active or passive? Passive media is any form of media where the consumer can’t physically do anything with it, except for consume it (newspaper, television, radio, etc). Active media is any form of media where the consumer can physically engage with it (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc).

But there’s a catch to this (there is always a catch, isn’t there?). We can’t just look at one aspect of the experience to see whether it is active or passive. To find the right marketing mix, we have to look at four elements of the modern media experience:

1. The Consumer. When is the consumer active or passive with the media channel? Do all consumers want to tweet, share, chat and create when they are engrossed in a TV show late in the evening, or are they most comfortable sitting back and watching the drama unfold? We live in a world where television broadcasters are pushing at a feverish pace to make what was a very passive media channel (sitting back and watching) into an active one (adding widgets and tickers, encouraging tweeters to use special hashtags, etc). Understanding how the audience consumes the medium is core to understanding what type of advertising they will best embrace. So yes, you can tell TV show viewers to follow along on Facebook, but how many of them simply want to sit back, watch the TV show, and fall asleep?

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