Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Social Media Separates PR, Marketing

The Grand Rapids Press on Monday localized a Business Week story about young people steering away from social Web sites because of increased advertising.

Advertising "clutter" has been studied for years by academics and practitioners. It is an even more interesting concept these days because media has proliferated into multiple forms thanks to technology, and with each new medium or platform comes efforts by marketers to "monetize" the medium. That usually means charging for content, or supporting it with advertising.

The trouble is, these days, consumers have more choices not just of content or channels within a medium, but of media. To attract sought after demos, often the 18-29 age group, new media starts out as free content, and often uncluttered. That has been the appeal--more content that you want, little or no advertising. We have seen it in satellite radio, social media sites like Facebook, mobile media like cell phones and MP3 players, and all manner of streaming audio and video online, from YouTube to specialized sites.

While the producers used to have so much control when offerings were limited, today Adam Smith's "invisible hand" has given the media consumer more control. What does that mean for communication professionals?

Well, it is changing the advertising biz. Consumers have more clout to control the ad environment. Most are savvy enough to understand that ads support the content, allowing them to receive it free. But, there is a point of diminishing return when an environment has too many ads--clutter. So advertisers and programmers have to keep the number of ads to a minimum. This benefits advertisers though. If your ad sits out in an uncluttered environment, you get more attention. Media can charge more if they can show that.

With so many changes in medium, the format of ads is also changing. Already the pre-roll for online video is being replaced with opaque overlays in a portion of the video so viewers don't have to wait to view their content. Pop-ups and banners online are being replaced with integrated and animated ads. And that leads to the third change....

Ad content must be increasingly more relevant to the program content. In satellite radio, you can see some ads sponsoring an hour, a program, and even an entire channel. This form of uncluttered co-branding is going to be increasingly evident in other media as well, including conventional radio, television and online applications. It harks back to the golden days of radio in the '40s with the "Texaco Opera" and so forth.

In sum, consumers in new media are demanding ads be limited, short, unobtrusive, and relevant. Those who ignore that and see people as a target will end up annoying, and losing. Those who take a PR approach, and use ads and other tactics in new media to cultivate mutual relationships, are on the cusp of huge opportunity.

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