Why to Embrace Media Chaos

Many agencies kick off a client pitch from a perspective that assumes that the client needs serious help and must be saved from the media clutter in our society. Instead, it’s better to flip that idea and ride the ups and downs of media chaos.

Whether people realize it or not, they are more interested and engaged in media than in anything else. And more than ever. People spend more time with media than they do with any other aspect of their life, in a non-stop and intensive manner.  Because people are choosing to live with media as a constant component included in every activity, they are essentially leading mediated lives.
Think about the last time you stood in a line. The inevitable reaction to a line is to take out your phone and begin browsing. People browse through Facebook, check email, text with friends, shop online, play games on their PSP, and listen to music. Lines seem to move more quickly these days! Kids don’t just go to school anymore; they surf the Web while they attend class. Laws have been created based on the fact that we can’t bear to put our phones away while driving. The point is that there is almost no part of life that is unmediated. Media has become the lens through which we engage almost everything. From friends to entertainment, to managing a household and even work, media is enhancing and enriching almost every aspect of people’s lives.
Many people point to this media-run life as though it is the symptom of some sort of problem and causing us to feel suffocated in the clutter. However, this behavior can be seen as the beginning of a solution – media is becoming the operating system through which people manage their lives. Keeping track of friends, managing schedules, staying on top of what’s happening right now are all things happening through media because media is the most effective way to manage them. The challenge for marketers in this world is the same as it has always been: capturing and directing people’s attention. There are three key things marketers must do to capture attention in the mediated life in order to stand out:
Creative media: Nearly all of the media that people are exposed to is standardized.  We use the same ad formats, content formats, and channel strategies. Relying on standard media to communicate makes breaking through this clutter very difficult, given that people are spending approximately ten hours per day with media. It’s somewhat akin to putting a brick in a wall and hoping that someone notices your brick. The good news is that people are hardwired to notice what’s different. Make your brick a different color or shape, and people will notice. This is essentially what custom media does. It plays with the format and the content of standard media to create a new type of media experience, one that is much more noticeable and engaging.
Rapid-response media: Expectations are rising for what happens in media. If Stephen Colbert can mention something on his show half-jokingly, have his audience amplify it on Reddit, and have that turn into the Rally to Restore Sanity, then why can’t your brand? If we know that young adults are leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs behind them (i.e., what I search for, who my friends are, what I like, what my status updates are), then we need to take that information into consideration when we want to communicate with them to get a response.
Persistent experiences: People are loyal to content, not to channels. They don’t care whether The Daily Show comes in through their TV, tablet or smartphone. They frequently engage with the same content simultaneously on several channels – for example, watching football on TV, managing a fantasy team on their tablet and texting with friends about it on their phone. This behavior represents an opportunity for brands to engage with people by offering something that enhances the experience of the media they are already using. Whether it’s a sponsored player analyst for determining who you should start on your fantasy team (per our example above) that runs during pregame or a game that can be played with friends while watching Glee, it is critical to create experiences in media that are additive and complimentary to the content people are already consuming.
Mike Barrett is North America head of strategy at Universal McCann,the media agency owned by Interpublic Group.

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