Re-defining Scale

Advertising had its glory days during the age of mass media. But with the advent of cable TV and digital publishing twenty years ago, audiences began to fragment. It’s safe to say that there is no more animal called mass media, since viewers who have cable or satellite TV have 200-500 channels to choose from, and increasing numbers of younger viewers are choosing to watch video “over the top” anyway. That makes audience fragmentation even worse.  The same is true of the genre formerly known as “print.”  If advertising is going to work as well as it did in the past, it is going to have to change, and we’re going to have to give up the idea of sheer scale for better targeting and deeper relationships. Either publishers or advertisers can take the lead on this, because both have pieces of the data puzzle. Most publishers have good data on their visitors, and most advertisers have equally good data about their customers. Shouldn’t it be easy to connect the dots?

Apparently not. But it has to be done before marketers give up on advertising and publishers who depend on it go out of business.

We didn’t make this up. A foremost authority on the future of media, Professor Jeff Jarvis of CUNY’s journalism school, is writing a book called “Geeks Bearing Gifts.”  He’s walking his talk by publishing the book a single chapter at a time on Medium, the new publishing platform started by Twitter and Blogger co-founder Ev Williams. Medium does not yet sell ads, although we’re sure it will once it acquires enough users. But Medium will never be a “mass medium” as in the old days, because it exists to surface quality writing, much of it long form.  Its audience, mostly writers, will be of interest only to certain brands, and those brands will engage deeply with the platform.

Jarvis believes that publishers who want to avoid the commodification of what they’re selling need to adopt a relationship strategy:

…the relationship strategy gives us the opportunity to increase the value of what we sell to advertisers. By knowing more about who our users are, we can sell and deliver more targeted advertising that is more relevant to their customers and thus more effective. Rather than serving only one-size-fits-all “impressions” to anonymous “eyeballs” by the thousands as advertisers and media companies do now, we can offer more productive measures of value like attention, engagement, action, impact, and even sales. We can serve specific groups of users to advertisers who value them highly. With privacy properly protected, we have the opportunity to become a trusted broker of data we gather about our users. And if we get good at the relationship business, we have a brief window of opportunity to teach and sell these skills to advertisers as a service — presuming they don’t wake up and learn them before we do. We also have the opportunity to move past selling advertising to selling products and services directly to users, venturing into commerce — which really is just a truncated form of marketing and advertising. The relationship strategy is one defense against the commodification of media’s old content business by new competitors and new technologies.

In Jarvis’ opinion, publishers have to start the revolution in marketing. But we think it can’t be done by publishers alone. ZINC high impact video formats do allow us to reach users at scale, but that’s because we also have a network of quality publishers. We’re not depending on an outmoded concept of mass media to give marketers their scale; we’re depending on your good data about your customers to govern your choices on our network. Then your creative provides the engagement you need to drive sales. It can’t be simply a one-sided game.