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?
2. The Media. How do you think Google — as a search engine — would be performing if the sole form of revenue was driven by banner advertising on the search results and not the contextually relevant format of AdWords? In fact, banner ads are a very simplistic and non-active type of media. They essentially replicate the print model: "We have content on a web page, why not put an ad next to it like we do with magazines and newspaper?" While banner advertising still generates billions of dollars in media advertising, the truth is that it is a very passive advertising format that was simply copy and pasted over to the a very active new medium. We could talk about how "interactive" these banner ads are (or were promised to be), but the numbers don't lie: banner ads couldn't perform any worse. Well over 99% of banner ads fail to generate any kind of click. They are passive forms of media that are out of touch with their very active digital channels.
3. The Channel. Are you the same person on Google that you are on Facebook that you are reading this post on Harvard Business Review? These are very different types of digital channels and digital consumers act differently depending on which channels they are using. When you are doing a search on Google, you have a very different intent and mindset than when you're on Facebook and connecting with friends or catching up with acquaintances. It becomes abundantly clear that you're also in a dramatically different media mindset as you read these words than when you're creating a board on Pinterest. Understanding how these channels independently operate, and which types of advertising match the consumer's intent, is critical to building a successful advertising campaign.
4. The Platform. The word "platform" gets thrown around a lot. Here's what I mean by it: the Internet is the platform that the Facebook channel resides on; television is the platform that the HGTV specialty channel resides on. So before you allocate those marketing dollars, ask yourself: is the platform an active or passive one? Think about digital books as a platform. Do readers really want links, embedded video, extended audio interviews, sharing capabilities and more in a book? Will they, intuitively, turn what has traditionally been a very passive platform into an active one, simply because book publishers feel they are competing for attention with the Internet? As we watch the "smartening" of the television, it will be interesting to see just how many viewers truly dive into the myriad new ways of engaging with television. Certainly, those in the TV business hope that lots of them will. Most newer televisions are Internet enabled, but what is the true number of households that actually connect their TV sets to the Internet? According to eMarketer, nearly one quarter of US households now have a TV connected to the Internet, so we're about to find out just how active this typically passive platform can become.
One important caveat: it is not a zero sum game when it comes to active and passive media. The ways that consumers engage with different forms of media is not an absolute. While some will claim that Twitter is useless unless you're constantly tweeting and retweeting, there is a large user base that is simply interested in following celebrities (these people are very passive in an active channel). And, for every person who watches The Voice while building up a hearty Doritos stain on their jammies, there is a ever-growing segment that will tweet, share, chat, and follow every move that that Team Usher makes (these people are very active in a passive channel). So, instead of worrying about social media marketing, mobile marketing and more, why not sit back as ask yourself these questions:
- When are our consumers active or passive with our brand?
- Is our advertising active when they're active and passive when they're passive?
- Are the channels that we're advertising on active when the consumers are active and passive when they are passive?
- And, lastly, is the platform — in and of itself — a predominantly active or passive one?
From there, you can truly start to better understand what a proper advertising mix can look like, be better at defining which opportunities could potentially work against others, and know which ones are just woefully flawed.