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Speak WITH us, not AT us

I watch a lot of TV. From 5pm until 2 am, my TV is on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m sitting in front of the sleek monitor, but it does mean that I can warm my apartment with the heat that emanates from my LCD. With a lot TV watching comes a lot of DVRing. How else can I watch programs that are on at the same time on different channels? It also means that at any given point during this time period, I am bombarded with commercials.

An hour-long network show is actually only 44 minutes, with 16 minutes of commercials (a half hour show is 22 minutes with 8 minutes of commercials). Multiply 16 minutes by the number of hours you have the TV on (for me it’s roughly 9 hours for a total of 144 minutes or 2 hours and 24 minutes a day) and the messages from companies pile up over a day (let alone a week or a lifetime!).

Throw in the amount of time I sit in front of a computer, say between the hours of 8am and 5pm (although, this is where things get a bit hairy. I have the innate ability, as I’m sure most of you do, to have the TV on while sitting in front of the computer, as well as music playing oh so subtly in the background) and bam! more corporate messages. Only online, it doesn’t have to be in the guise of video; it could be a brand I follow on Twitter or a contextual ad or a targeted ad or an ad on Facebook or even a recommendation from an online friend. No wonder, after a while, everything seems like a commercial.

Historically, one of the best ways to get a corporate message out to the masses has been to have the CEO explain current trends and how his/her company is suited to move forward. This has been an axiom of Madison Ave: get the chief to speak and put a face to the company. This is all fine and good, but in today’s computer-mediated communications world, it’s just not enough to see the CEOs mug on a commercial. Unfortunately, many brands haven’t figured this out. Indeed, I’m seeing a lot more commercials with heads of companies:

General Motors

Is this the advertising world’s response to social media? I hope not. With the advent of social media, the consumer can now participate with the brand. The technology has turned the top-down dictum of a company espousing its message to the masses on its head. It’s now a two-way street with equal (at least perceived equal) push and pull from the company and the consumer. So, where does this two way street lead?

Glad you asked. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most reading this know where that street goes: direct communication with the consumer, not at the consumer. This is not just a semantic difference; it’s the foundation of reform.

Companies need to buttress their CEO commercial with a CEO blog which will shed more light on the messaging campaign, er, commercial. Opening the blog to comments and responding will also create a more compassionate side. Understanding, of course, that there will be plenty of negative comments, the CEO and his/her staff can respond accordingly.

While social media is the new way to get the message out, companies and brands need to realize that advertising on television, where there’s no interaction between brand and consumer, is not the answer to its problems. It’s a band-aid, and a loose one at that.

Organizations and their brands have to realize that conversation happens with people. Communication theorists Shannon and Weaver decided that the term “communication” means this:

(taken from Change.org’s article: The Dynamics of Communication)

There’s a lot going on when individuals communicate and when a company engages in conversation, it should look like the above two-way model and not this archaic one-way model:

(taken from Loki Labs)

We live in a two way world and companies need to pull together and marry traditional advertising, PR and marketing with digital, transparent communications. The communications industry needs to work harder to explain to clients why the client needs to participate and not sit on the sidelines.

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About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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