The medium is the message – truer today than when McLuhan said it.

Many of the senior people who I work with started in the planning game when there weren’t that many media to plan.  TV, Print, Radio, Outdoor, Cinema.

A staple chart from those days used in way too many presentations (and which I hated, but was made to include more often than I would have liked) had a tick box to drive media choice by understanding the role of media.  Is it intrusive ? Is it visual ? (not so great for radio then that one).  Is it empathetic ?  Does it have stand out?  I can’t actually remember all the questions people used to ask but I know why it annoyed me.  The answer was usually really not a tick or cross but “well actually it depends on exactly, precisely how you’re using it and what you’re using it for.  So yes print can be intrusive if you use it intrusively.  And outdoor can fail to have stand out if you fail to make it stand out.  How many ads stood out for you last time you walked round the block ?

The catch all planning grid did not take into account how real media insight could drive great communications.  Although it won many creative awards the brilliance of “Hello Boys” truly lay in the media selection.  If it had been planned on the basis of efficient reach of bra buyers it might have run exclusively in women’s magazines.  Placing it at roadside drove fame and visibility and allowed the impact of the creative work full scope.

Now you can no longer list all the candidate media on the fingers of one hand.  Nor do most people apply cretinous catch all questions to their selection.  But I wonder if we are all, always, really taking into consideration that each medium is a medium in its own right, and using its unique characteristics to fuel effective insight.

So cinema isn’t cinema it’s a different medium depending on type of movie, time of day and of course technology.  The Women’s Aid 3d ad that ran in cinema last year came from an insight about how 3d tech works (one eye sees a different image from the other one), and the planner then made the leap into what happens if you “turn a blind eye” to violence against women.  Analysis of Twitter patterns during TV ad breaks has proved and quantified what we have long instinctively believed :  that an ad in Homeland isn’t the same as an ad broadcast in XFactor as far as viewer behaviour is concerned.  Video on demand isn’t the same medium as TV. Vine isn’t FB video isn’t TV sponsorship credits.   Does anyone really want to watch ads on YouTube or is it a medium for sharing and peer recommendations ? An ad in newspapers online isn’t the same medium as the print paper.  When there are new technologies fuelling innovation in media we don’t really see the benefit necessarily at first.  The beautiful applications that the second screen are fuelling for TV as an immediate point of sale have been talked about for a lot longer than they have been apparent.  There is more to the second screen than selling pizzas on Saturday night.  The latest in DOOH wont come of age until we really understand the differentiated consumer insight it delivers.

Marshall McLuhan, a communications guru of early advertising, notoriously said that the medium is the message.  For the best strategies over the decades he has been proved true time and again.  Now more than ever we must be precise in the briefing of the role of each medium and work with creative developers that genuinely “get” the medium.


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