Don't Forget The Message

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“The medium is the message.”

You know this infamous saying. It was introduced to the world in Marshall McLuhan‘s book, Understanding Media, in 1964. A lot of people debate what, exactly, the phrase means. Wikipedia goes with this: “the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.” I’m not sure how much more clarity it provides. Still, in a more simplistic way, it has been said that McLuhan is saying that that the medium – and not the content – should be the focus of study (and yes, McLuhan later went on to say that the message is – in a way – another form of media). While this seems like a smart strategy if you’re a media theorist, it falls a little short if you’re a marketing professional trying to make your advertising have any sort of real impact on an audience in today’s day and age.

Are marketers focused on the medium or the message these days? 

AdWeek reported today that, Instagram Has Over 200,000 Advertisers Just 5 Months After Opening the Spigot. Stop right there, and let that headline sink in a for a few minutes. 200,000 brands are now advertising on Instagram… after only five months. We know why this is happening. Instagram continues to grow (about 400,000 monthly active people on the platform, making this 20% of all Internet users). Advertisers love to flock to where there is a mass audience. So, how is that working out for them? How many brands on Instagram are people following? How many of these ads have you seen? Have you been blown away by them? These ads include longer-form video ads, carousel ads and there are expanded functionality for brands that include options like app-install, “shop now,” and “learn more” buttons, according to the article. This also makes sense, because Facebook owns Instagram, and this benefits media companies who are trying to reach more and more consumers, as the marketplace continues to get both fragmented and over-populated (all at the same time).

The audience will decide if this is quality advertising or not.

Regardless of what your personal position may be, Instagram has social built into it. How many people will like and share these ads? How many people will go from the ad to following a brand’s Instagram account, or taking part in one of the ad’s calls to action? The data should be rich, real time and telling. And, that’s the bigger idea: none of this matters, unless the message actually works, resonates and adds value to a consumer’s Instagram experience.

How many marketers are really focused on the message?

In recent presentations, I have been begging my audience members to change their paradigms. As someone who has been writing about the immense benefits that digital marketing provides over traditional advertising for close to fifteen years (not a typo!), it’s astonishing that after all of this time, social media has (predominantly) become just another paid channel. With that, there’s been a lot of traditional advertising thinking going into the creative and the content. The paradigm is this: think about making an impression over how many impressions you are getting. It’s more than a play on words. So many marketers are worried about how many times their message has been seen – and on which platform (“are we cool, because we’re on Snapchat and people like us there?”). In a sense, we have accepted these new platforms – and their audience – but we have not adapted our creative message to really resonate both with that audience, and how that audience intersects with how different each platform is for them. We flock to the medium because of the people, and we forget about the relevance and power of the message.

Don’t forget about the message.