The last standing media heroes

For many, American business executive and congressman Bruce Barton (1886-1967) is something of a guru, usually after they’ve read his book “The Man Nobody Knows” – an under-the-pillow companion for countless advertising professionals – both aspiring and practising.  The book is considered one of the top best sellers of the 20th century.  Barton’s premise makes for compelling reading: far from being a sacrificial lamb, a softly spoken social worker with an eternal penchant for love and peace, Jesus Christ, he said, was, in fact, one of the greatest sales executives of all time.Barton considers the so-calld ‘methods’ Jesus used in order to get his message across to people who would not have otherwise given him the time of day. His public discourses were peppered with catchy images, deeds and phrases in the form of parables, miracles and sermons. Jesus also “picked up twelve men from the bottom ranks of business and forged them into an organization that conquered the world.” Not surprisingly, the book caused controversy over the years, revered by some and loathed by others. It nevertheless sold out  – and keeps selling astonishingly well more than 80 years after it was published.  Barton’s views are the starting point for this piece because one of his oft-quoted mantras is “[i]n good times, people want to advertise; in bad times, they have to.”

This is true – but – according to current techno-media news – not all advertising media benefit from the need to advertise: The Herald Tribune lead last week with Playboy says it is open to sale of business; the New York Post offers the header New York Times Suspends Dividend, and according to news.com Global downturn hits Oscars with less advertising, parties,  The New York Times itself carries the story that Yahoo Shows Search Ads With Images and Video, adding that “Yahoo has been trying to win back paid search advertising from the market leader, Google. Yahoo’s market share in paid search has fallen from 13.8 percent in 2004, to 10.5 percent this year, according to the research firm eMarketer. In the same time period, Google’s market share has more than doubled, from 32.8 percent in 2004, to 67.7 percent this year.” Granted, these are tough times, people advertise less and, therefore, all advertising resources are taking a knock. Right?  Wrong. Re-read the end of the NYT piece: while Yahoo! bled almost 24% of its profits, Google profits ballooned and doubled.  As long as someone is making money, Bruce Barton was right and the media’s “in tough times nobody makes money” argument doesn’t hold much water. Marketers simply ignore some advertising channels in favour of others.

Yahoo!, Playboy, NYT and the Oscars are losing advertising money, while Google still makes good ad-money. But Google is not damage-proof, so what keeps the world’s most successful search machine awake at night?  The answer, I believe, can be found in a product launched by Google in December 2016, after 7 months in beta.  In the past, Google executed strategic thinking with pinpoint-aggression: create an application that duplicates – mimics even – the competition’s leading app, and then make it easily accessible – and free. This strategy guided the creation of the Google Chrome browser, and Google Docs (the free, sexy, Office clone that allows users to open and use, then save files in MS-Word, PowerPoint, Access and Excel formats.) Google’s latest strategic venture is Google Friend Connect – an online, free applications that enables anyone – from private citizens to top 100 corporate mavericks, to embed complete, functioning social network features and capabilities in their website.

Now, Google does not seriously suggest that George de Freez’s surfing and tequila website, Anton Plitchook’s list of beehives in Southern France or Nannette Humphries’ tennis watchers’ emporium will even dent MySpece, FaceBook or Twitter.

Google Friend Connect is a strong indication that Google sees Social Networks as major competition that needs to be handled strategically. The idea is that the critical mass, created without the stickiness (and, some say, excessive stickiness) of FaceBook, MySpace and others, will simply dilute the coherence of those online communities. No central registration, no more exposure (real and imagined) to millions of fellow netizens. Lately, social networks have shown their darker, controversial side – blogger Ron Schenone claimed recently in the respected blog .lockergnome.com that “social networking site MySpace has just purged their site of some 90,000 sex deviants. MySpace originally stated that they suspected only 40,000 perverts had made their way onto the site. But later admitted the increase in numbers. At the same time, social networking site FaceBook is being plagued with hackers stealing identities. The thefts are being used to solicit money from unsuspecting friends of the victims who have had their accounts compromised.” Google Friend Connect will – arguably – alleviate much of the angst associated with massive online communities.

Social Networks should be heading for big things, but only if they can ‘monetise’ (turn onto cash) the staggering number of committed, habitual subscribers and members they have. AOL did it (at least, until it wend mad and bought Time Warner.) The idea is solid – put your subscribers/members into a walled-up digital kraal and mine them for all their worth, information wise. This is not an unreasonable expectation, – after all, Google is often seen as a Search Engine with extensions, while FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter and the likes are seen as active, vibrant communities whose members do much more that   search – they literally live online – these are wonderful marketing environments.

As the world enters uncertain financial times, people are likely to gather, congregate, communicate – and commune – in order to address financial issues (find a new job, spend money wisely, compare services and prices and get general ‘how-to’ advice from peers.) Under those circumstances, the only advertising worth considering is word of mouth. This may mean that those who – according to Bruce Barton – must advertise, will spend their time and money in digital communities. This, I’m afraid, does not bode well for revenue models fuelling print and TV media.  The news is much better for media in the digital (mostly social networks online, and mobile channels), outdoors and radio channels.

Digital is cheap and focused (‘narrowcast’), outdoors media can be localised and linked to both online and mobile media, and radio – that eternal phoenix, keeps rising from the dead to maintain its ongoing pull. At the end of the day, the only acid test is a channel’s ability to contribute to, and survive with, the last standing heroes of 2015 – mobile media.

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