Content vs. Media: Debating Which Advertising Asset Constitutes the True Commodity


You’re an advertiser. Your boss wants one thing from every decision you make — traffic. No other form of media buy can guarantee your boss gets traffic like buying online media, so you buy ads online. If your boss is extremely narrow-minded, you can even spend all your money on buying keywords on search engines to guarantee a very specific number of traffic, irregardless of the creativity of your message. Viola, happy boss means you’re getting paid to not think.

But your boss wasn’t always a complete nincompoop. Back in the old days (1980s) when your boss was “cutting his teeth” (whatever that means — sounds painful), there was still one fail-safe way to get people to your product — TV, and that’s all your boss knew. Radio worked, but it was way too splintered to do anything on a national scale easily and worse, people only listened to it in the car on their way to their most hated place or most loved place, not exactly the right times to get them to buy your stuff; billboards sorta worked, but there’s never been a consensus that’s influenced your boss on OOHs real effectiveness; print worked, but the masses didn’t really read, so it really couldn’t be relied on to sell to anyone but those with the highest of brows. If your boss wanted to get numbers, TV never let him down.

And everything was so much simpler for him to understand, too. No TiVo, no satellite, no Treos; in fact, one or two phone calls and a great meal later with his good buddies over at the network, and he’d have accomplished his objective for the week (defined innocently as just “getting the message out”). Everyone was his age, but they were never thought of as “too young”, and branding and research into consumer attitudes were still pretty useless because your boss always “went with his gut” (he calls it “experience” today). Ah yes, those were the days. Too bad you were still in grammar school then. Or not even born yet.

You’ve finally come to terms with how truly clueless your boss really is in today’s marketing environment and how utterly futile it is for him to pretend to be doing his homework to catch up to your expertise. Yessir, it’s a different world and what your boss doesn’t quite get is that traffic ain’t just sitting around waiting to buy your company’s stuff. You actually have to work for their attention: come up with really interesting creative which supports a brand, not a sale; plan an actual media mix that encompasses no less than millions of choices; remember to invest in new fangled research, which you then actually have to use. And you have to do it all for the same budget your boss used in the 80s.

You’re not scared of what’s happened and have fully embraced it all. But your boss is scared and he’s absolutely lost. In the desert. At night. It’s because he’s the boss that he can’t afford to appear incompetent. He may get “Freston’d”. So, to prove that he’s on top of it and still useful, he orders up a viral campaign one day. But the next day he’s not sure about the results, so puts the brakes on it.

Of course he’s not sure about the results! In his heyday, “viral” was something you contracted or an excuse to take a sick day. He has no clue what to measure because all he wants, all he needs, all he knows, is traffic. And he doesn’t just want any type of traffic; he wants “sexy” traffic. This is the unfortunate extent of his familiarity with this new marketing environment, familiarity that directs you to toss money at search engines for their traffic, disregarding all of the other media choices, and what you get from these choices, because if your boss wants traffic, you’re going to give it to him. You’re almost positive he wet his pants from excitement when a certain former-search-engine-turned-online-portal recently purchased an auction-based “exchange to help buyers and sellers trade digital media more efficiently”.



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