Monday, October 23, 2006

Media Must Not Commit Hara-Kiri

Media Must Not Commit Hara-kiri!

By Harish Bijoor

Media must not kill itself.

As I watch the evolution of media over the last several years, I worry for it. I worry hard as I watch the routes primary mediums seem to want to adopt in contemporary India today.

Let me trace this story of a worry that haunts me through an examination of what I peek at when I look at the trends in the evolution of the mediums I have loved and used to commercial brand advantage so much all these years. Televsion, Press, Radio and the unconventional medium included!

The Evolution:

Communication and the want to communicate is possibly one of the oldest of the desires of man. Food, clothing, shelter, sex and the desire to communicate… that order for a start! At least I would like to believe that!

In the very beginning, the best form of communication is seen to be the 1:1 form! The earliest form of it all, where one individual meets another. Adam meets Eve. Communicates. Communication in the earliest forms we know of could be visual, verbal, aural or can be of any form that straddles sensory communicative ability! Seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, feeling, talking and hearing are indeed all forms.

The 1:1 form of communication is possibly the strongest form we have in terms of delivery efficacy! It is direct and personal. It has the ability to establish an instant rapport between the communicator and the one being communicated to. It is two-way as well! It provides for the ability of the communicator to cogently understand the needs, wants and desires of the person being communicated to.

But 1:1 communication is difficult at times. When communication of this form gets difficult to maintain, man evolves the next best form. 1:Many! In this form, the communicator is one and the communiqué is dished out to thousands of people. The local Press and the avatar of FM Radio as we know it today are possibly good examples of this form. There is still some semblance of localization maintained in the process. There is still some customization of appeal. This is mostly one-way. The communicator, at best, can use the process of extrapolatative market research to arrive at what the consumer wants and desires.

1: Many then morphs into the 1: Very-Many form. This is the form best represented by National Network television. One message dished out to the entire country with little or no customization at all! This form of communication is that much more divorced from local needs as any. Communication is dished out keeping the masses in mind, and there is indeed a lowest-common denominator being appealed to!

And then there is the 1:Too Many type! Fox News dishing out its American fare to the entire world is possibly a great example!

The final frontier will be breached when we are able to advertise on the moon. The vision of 2020! You take a moonlit walk with your beloved, look up to the moon, and there is an advertising message staring back at you: “The moon, brought to you by Coca Cola”! This indeed would be the final form. 1: All!

Many of us will go through all these forms of communication in our very lifetime! The point: media morphs! When one form gets inefficient and unable to deliver, a new form appears. The new form is not necessarily the best in terms of efficacy, but is certainly the best in terms of reach! Not the best in terms of impact, but certainly the best in terms of reach!

The evolution of media has largely been reach-centric. Everything else has been sacrificed on the way!

Things Gone Wrong:

As we have traversed the evolutionary process of mediums, from 1: 1 to the mythical 1: All media-fantasizers dream of, there are several things that have gone wrong on the way! There is one big worry I will focus on in this piece.

The one big thing mediums have for themselves is the fact that they are trusted mediums that disseminate content.

Right in the beginning, the medium emerges as a completely content-oriented form. Look at the first newspapers that hit the stands. The idea is content. The newspaper is the purveyor of content.

The first set of readers adopt the publication of their choice based on content. Content that is presented cogently and content that is presented with integrity. It is indeed content that shapes the medium and its readership. As readership builds up, the publication is successful in literally building a community of people who would swear by the publication for what it carries. The publication represents community interest and becomes a representative of the collective aspirations, needs and wants of its readers. Many a time, this very content is crafted with care taking into consideration its set of captive readers. This truly is the newspaper that understands its customers and delivers to them what they want.

As circulation numbers climb, there is a direct correlation between the increase in advertising among publications of all types. As more and more readers franchise a paper, the advertising side of the paper tends to deepen. And rightly so. No complaints here.

The evolutionary trend here is however worrisome. Publications at times tend to show a trend to keep increasing the advertising side of the paper at the detriment of content. What started as a 100 per cent content publication metamorphoses into an 80 per cent content and 20 per cent advertising 'avatar'. The end point in this game is however reached when advertising tends to weigh equally in page numbers as content does. No complaints thus far as well!

The complaints start coming when the publication in question starts leveraging its content to stay in tune with the needs, wants and desires of its advertisers rather than the needs, wants and desires of its readers! Many a publication traverses this terrain. And this is the big worry!

The reader of the publication is the guinea pig. How long will this pig remain a pig? Not very long really!

Every medium, whether in the terrain of the medium of television, press or radio is guilty of this trend. Time to correct the trajectory before it is too late!

The very credibility of mediums is in doubt. Let us remember that the very primary franchise of mediums is based on content. The franchisee of the medium adopts the channel, the newspaper brand or his FM channel of choice based on content and what it offers. As the years go by, if the user actually senses a lack of commitment on the part of the medium, the vehicle will be distrusted.

The very goose that lays the golden eggs for media houses is up on judgment. The more individual mediums leverage on advertising and bring every form of it in the guise of creative advertising executions amidst the form of content and at times well within it even, the more is the damage being done!

I want to trust my television channel. I watch it for content! I believe it offers me content that packs in integrity! I believe it will not do me wrong! I believe in what is offered on it! I swear by it! I will speak about it to others and increase its viewership! I am the simple consumer!

As advertising makes its way on the channel of my favour, I will trust the advertising equally. I will vest onto the advertising the positive cues I reserve for the channel. I will trust the advertising. I will even believe that the channel of my favour will not carry advertising that lacks integrity. I am the simple consumer!

As days go by and as I watch a lack of discretion in allowing in intrusive advertising on to the medium, I will start wondering whether my channel has it all right! As I keep to the franchise and as I see a lot of advertising finding its way into the content part of the channel, subliminal and overt, I worry more! I am still the simple consumer!

I keep watching my favorite channel. Till one day I discover that my favorite channel dishes out content that is not entirely above-board in terms of mixing advertising with content. I worry and distrust seeps in. I am still the simple consumer. I become cynical. I distrust the channel. I distrust all advertising on it as well!

The channel has taken it a bit too far. The channel has traversed from a 100 per cent content integrity channel to a cusp of the content and advertising. I am at times unable to discern what drives the channel more. The advertising or the content? The viewer of the advertiser?

As mediums get more and more driven by the advertiser, we need to worry. Time to re-jig our act. Remember, content drives it all! Also remember, the consumer drives this movement. Not the advertiser! Lets re-jig it all!

We owe it to our collective future!

The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, a private-label consulting firm with a presence in the markets of UK, Hong Kong and the Indian sub-continent.

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