Opinion: Approach info highway as alternative media

We are all being inundated on a daily basis with predictions, projections and data, some valuable and some not, about the so-called information highway and the impact it will have on our businesses and our lives.Among the hope, hype and confusion,...

We are all being inundated on a daily basis with predictions, projections and data, some valuable and some not, about the so-called information highway and the impact it will have on our businesses and our lives.

Among the hope, hype and confusion, an apathy seems to be developing, and a sense that if we don’t do anything at all, the highway will develop a life of its own, and we will magically find our place somewhere on the road.

Taking into consideration the sophisticated products and services that come with convergence, effectively blurring the border among communications, information and entertainment, the best way I can get a handle on how to ‘harness the highway’ is to approach it as I have new vehicles in the past, as alternative media.

In the two decades I have worked in and around television, I spent most of my time working within what was the new media of its day: Citytv, MuchMusic, MusiquePlus, the early Global and, had it been licensed, Tellevision.

The unique properties of these services in relation to ownership, programming, delivery systems and markets, meant we had to not only market ourselves differently, but better than our traditional competitors, and with fewer resources, just to survive.

We had to be creative, so our media world did not stop and start with traditional media applications, internally or externally.

The term ‘media’ came to mean everything, from the use of traditional media for advertising to the promotional packaging of programming you could not otherwise sell; the creation of new program genres like music and fashion television; the sale of hundreds of thousands of walking, interactive billboards in the form of t-shirts; the fan club that built an unprecedented teen database; the television event that drew more than 40,000 to Toronto’s SkyDome; the interactive 800 number that drew 14 million attempted calls; and the blimp that roamed Ontario, creating product visibility and grassroots events.

These campaigns used some elements of traditional media, but more importantly, they rewarded the audience and turned everything from a club, a stadium, a blimp, a telephone service and a program, into alternative, or new, media.

In the brave new multimedia world, strategy, vision and marketing are not only key to success, but critical to survival.

Companies who do not adapt to the realities of the new marketplace face extinction. And nowhere is this more true than within the media and advertising communities.

As the industry moves from today’s mostly advertising-subsidized media systems to services built on a user-pay model, control shifts from the media to the viewer, and the consumer becomes programmer.

Advertisers who once went to broadcasters to reach a mass audience face multimedia choices: kiosks, interactive radio, interactive television, online computer services, and more.

So the challenge becomes how to entice these powerful consumers to view and respond to your particular program, message or offer.

In a conversation with Deloitte and Touche’s electronic media expert Dwight Allen, he illustrated, with a fishing analogy, how advertising might adapt.

Dwight likens traditional advertising to trawling, where you lower your net and catch schools of fish.

In a new era, advertising, he believes, will be more like fly fishing, where you focus on one fish by figuring out what fly would be most effective, and then pulling it past the fish in a convincing, appealing, more targeted and persuasive way.

In a media environment, where the customer is almost always in charge, choosing when to participate, watch or buy, marketers confront a tremendous marketing challenge and opportunity.

Alternative media is targeted and measurable in a way that traditional media has never been, and, as witnessed in the fishing metaphor, much more subtle, seductive and accountable.

This means that media companies and agencies who have relied on the tried and the true over the years have a large gap to close, and advertisers and consumers are demanding that they close it.

It seems to me that the only way to earn their attention and dollars is by creating innovative new programs that incorporate the strengths of creative advertising, smart media buying, value-added, promotion and public relations.

In order to succeed, we simply have to make it worth the audience’s while to receive our message and view our products, and reward them in a variety of ways for their time and attention.

Some of us have been doing that all along.

And the more I learn, the more convinced I become that for those of us who have followed an alternative path, marketing on the superhighway might be fairly similar to the road we’ve been travelling, albeit at a much faster speed.

Nancy Smith is president of NextMedia, a media buying company in Toronto.