When Love Comes To Town – A Mass Media Love Story

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People say that Mass Media doesn’t matter anymore. People say that Blogging and online social networks are the new reality. That may not be the case…

Imagine a world without Mass Media (which is something that many "Social Media Experts" are talking about). The only way that you would find out about anything is through your own newsfeed or the people you are following in spaces like Twitter and Facebook. Can this be the best way to get a full perspective about anything? Lay that thought out against the general battle cry from the mass population that no one likes advertising (in any shape or form).

Now, imagine that U2 is coming town, but the band does not take out any kind of traditional Mass Media advertising. In fact, push it further, there is no more Mass Media – as these "Social Media Gurus" are saying – (no mentions on radio, TV, in the newspapers, on billboards, etc…). Layer that on to your busy work schedule – you’ve been running from the house, to the gym  and to the office with only some minor interactions with daylight when you grab a coffee and a sandwich to eat at your desk. The band comes to town… the band leaves town… you didn’t even know that they were planning a tour date in your city.

Still feel the same way about Mass Media?

You might say, "well, if U2 were playing my city, then people in my Twitter feed or via Facebook would let me know because I follow people who are like me!" Fair enough, but remember, there is no Mass Media… so, how would they have heard about it? The point is, it’s easy to say, "Mass Media is dead" when something new and shiny comes along, but we all tend to forget that Social Media is not going to replace traditional media. In fact, it is much more likely that Social Media will simply compliment Mass Media or become a subset of it.

We need Mass Media.

We may not like to admit it. We may think that all advertising is the same (it isn’t), but we need to be informed of things – from products and services to events and opportunities. They may not all be relevant to us today, but who knows if something you read in a newspaper or saw on a billboard might not become something you need/want in a couple of weeks? It’s important to remember that Mass Media and Social Media do not fulfill the same needs. They are dramatically different.

Everything is "with" not "instead of".

All media platforms play specific roles in our lives. The advent of Social Media is highly personalized and also enables connections to people and places that were not possible only a short while ago. It’s easy to see how the newer one (Social Media) might be able to replace the older way of doing things (Mass Media). It’s also important to remember that sometimes the best solution is a nice and healthy combination of both the old and the new.

How do you feel about Mass Media?


  1. Mitch, agreed. Here’s one fact: The average American watches 5 hours and 9 minutes of live television a day. So not even counting travel time in cars (billboards and radios), magazines and newspapers, movies and public relations, we are awash in mass media.
    Social media is the new email, with some more interactivity and prettier icons. It’s addictive, and for a small minority it consumes much of their time. But people have always wanted to be entertained, and mass communications will be around for a very long time.
    It’s a mistake to follow trend lines too far. Bob Garfield does it in his last book. I suggest the actual media mix of the future will be slightly reset, with small screens becoming companion devices to the large screens that provide mass communication.

  2. I don’t think mass media Or traditional advertising isn’t important, but coming at social media from a PR background, I can tell you that many in business are still very skeptical about the reach of social media. My point has always been that the means of reaching mass media are simply more diverse than they have been in the past (advertising excepted of course). Rather than focusing on mainstream channels alone, it’s good to develop a mix of methods to reach a number of audiences — some through one-on-one in social network and some through mass media channels.
    My thinking is that many mass media channels simply need to get better at developing an online product that facilitates sharing by individuals in these networks. I think you raise a good point that mass media still fills a need, but they have to empower the rest of us to distribute their content more effectively. To me, this includes ads…Nothing exists in a vacuum on the web.

  3. Mass media’s health isn’t threatened so much by social media as it is by search. More specifically, the loss of time and attention to social media is far less harmful than the loss of advertising dollars to search and other targeted marketing opportunities.
    Social media leave mass media a little more starved for attention, but mass also feeds social. Mass media provide lots of things about which to talk, write, communicate, share, etc (the big game, last night’s episode, today’s office or school shooting, that remarkable situation in a faraway land). There are a small percentage of blogs that fully and properly generate stories and content (many built by newspaper cast-offs), but most are built of “takes” on stories initiated by mass media (at best: constructive analysis, at worst: rote summary).
    Search, however, eats mass media’s lunch by providing targeted, measurable advertising results. The health and well-being of mass media are most threatened by shrinking profit margins that make current organizational structures and workflows financially unsustainable.
    So: I agree, Mitch. Mass media provide valuable content and reach. I hope that many news and entertainment providers that are traditional and mass in nature find a way to reorganize, given their new and fast-changing financial realities.

  4. I think you only have to look at how ‘real people’ who don’t talk about social media, they just use it, are doing so. A lot of that is to talk about something that’s happening in mass media – TV shows and sporting events dominate trending topics (now look at a tag cloud based on the people you follow and spot the difference). Social, to a lot of people, is a layer on top of mass media.

  5. As the owner of an agency that’s been around 20 years, I can attest to the declining impact and effectiveness of mass media. But the key factor is this: as mass media declined in effectiveness, it’s producers (i.e. TV stations, radio stations, magazines) increased the media cost to make up for the reduced advertisers. Their day is coming. Rates for mass media will either get in line with their effectiveness, or they will die. If you could buy a spot in prime time Thursday evening TV in the Los Angeles market for $2,000, wouldn’t you?

  6. Mass media will not disappear completely, it is a necessary component of the serendipity you always speak of on your podcast Mitch. The world you paint with this post without mass media would foster a lot of micro groups that to yesterdays standard would be living under a rock.
    Mass media will always be a part of an overall marketing strategy at least one that economically afford it, but I believe communicating mass media will undergo a massive change. The first of which will be more accountability and tracking. The metrics in which we measure reach and action for mass media will catch up to online or whatever online metrics will finally become, as that is currently in a state of flux.
    The second change will be that of perception or voice. Has social media or the change in collective consciousness changed the public perception of advertising? Either way advertising will have to be perceived as good again. But for that to happen the voice of advertisers will need to change to be more in-line with the current state of collective consciousness. Social media is getting in-line with that and mass media will eventually catch up.

  7. I take this beyond the advertising aspect of mass media. If traditional media disappears, we’ll be back to singing minstrels delivering the news from town-to-town, each diluting the facts and validating myth. We need professionals who’s job it is to dig into a story and get at information that otherwise lays hidden. I have high hopes that the return of real investigative reporting will somehow be a side effect of social media’s impact on traditional media. This new focus on quality reporting will drive up the value of things like newspapers (whether they are online or in print) and voila! You have an effective mass media vehicle again; well, to reach the educated, anyway.

  8. Mass media: Dying? I don’t think so. Changing? Definitely.
    The way we consume media is evolving. There have been several reports lately about multi-tasking across the 3 screens. And while the the mass media proponents loudly explain that we are not consuming less TV, I have a question: As we multi task on the computer while we watch TV, when the ads come on do we simply focus on the computer screen instead of flipping channels? TV viewership may not be declining, but I think the more we multi-task the lower our ad viewership becomes….
    I believe mass media has a role to play, in particular TV. But as more media tools become available, including Social Media, the challenge is knowing which combination of tools to use best and for what purpose.
    In answer to the question about U2 coming to town (how would you have heard about it if there is no mass media). I think U2 would have let me know through Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools. Now whether they would be sold-out and have to book an extra night, that is anyone’s guess….

  9. To the point of many other comments on this thread, mass media advertising needs to represent valuable content/info to us consumers instead of feeding us the same junky campaigns, season after season.
    “The advent of Social Media is highly personalized and also enables connections to people and places that were not possible only a short while ago.” Since this doesn’t negate the need for TV, transit, billboard, magazine ads, etc… Those mediums are simply failing to connect with consumers in the same way that social media can. In fact, because interactions through social media feel so real, the juxtaposition only make mass advertising feel more impersonal.
    I believe the challenge for traditional advertisers is to change their approach. As Leigh said recently, we need to somehow “make mass feel personal”.

  10. Absolutely agree. I get twitchy when I hear people assume social and tailored media are going to replace mass media. Those people are usually young, about my age back when I believed everything in the future would be made of plastic and, later, that paper would disappear from the office and EVERYBODY would be working from home. Still waiting for all that.
    There is no revolution. It’s a series of adjustments and it’s never linear or even linear-ish. Too many factors at play, and the best predictors are those who consider the most factors. Thanks for this article.

  11. Great post and comments. I wonder if mass media and social media will not converge together. Imagine a massive billboard that was continually updated through a brand’s twitter stream, delivering specific news towards anyone who passed it.
    Strangely enough I have seen examples of this already being utilised on television to either promote a countdown to a television show (I think it was for Jay Leno) as well as to stimulate discussion and conversation about a particular topic, talk show.
    Although mass media will certainly not die, the recent decade has demonstrated huge convergence of technology, communications, community and sharing. It is a trend that I am sure will integrate itself into the mass market and hopefully with this will come a more personal face to ‘mass’ and a greater transparency on the side of brands and companies.

  12. As a 25 year veteran of media, I want it all! I laugh when I see people talk about “new” media and the “new” reality. It is media and reality. If you remove “mass media” then you lose social media as well.
    The two cannot be separated and they co-exist for a reason. In fact, if we are going to make a distinction between “mass� (crowd) “media� (mediums) then the Internet itself is mass media and it’s gone too.
    It’s sexy – to some self-proclaimed SMG’s – that we will all be digital and share content without mass media constraints. Not so fast! I’m going to have to take that cell phone, that portal, that gadget and that toy as well. All mass media. No mass media means nothing, zero, none, zilch.
    You can’t enjoy some benefits of mass media then discard the rest when it’s convenient and call yourself “new� media or “social� media centric. If you use the ‘how long is a piece of string’ analogy, we may need to go back to Gutenberg to settle this one.

  13. The issue we have with TV and Print is the content and not necessarily the medium. To take advertising as an example, I don’t have an issue with it per se. However I do have an issue with bad, boring, irrelevant, intrusive advertising. Advertising’s biggest enemy is advertising itself.

  14. Mass media will still be use for some specific domains of publicity, like you said about the U2 show, by exemple. But other companies will surely drop their budgets concerning mass media publicity. They will still use it but in combination with Social Medias.

  15. I’m happy to hear that you believe social media will not replace traditional media entirely, rather complement it.
    I always wonder if what I am reading in the social media world is credible. While there is much out there that is well-written and informed, it is clear that social media can spread misinformation rapidly. http://bit.ly/8A9Xk
    Twitter provides very little context for readers, making readers particularly susceptible to interpreting the 140 characters in a number of ways. On the other hand, newspapers and magazines are not restricted to 140 characters and can provide enough background information to make statements clear in meaning.
    I think credible newspapers need to remain an authority on current events.

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