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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Two Americas and The Future of Media

Everywhere you turn and at every conference you attend, a few very smart people are willing to make their unhedged forecasts about the future of media. They focus around new platforms, new gadgetry, the speed of transactions and the impact this will have on the future of advertising and marketing.

Virtually all of them are well thought out and quite plausible. But, to me, they all miss something. What they lack is the acknowledgement that all Americans are not as cutting edge as they are. One thing that I have learned over the last four decades is that consumers lag technology. Just because a new platform exists or a new application is available does not mean that most people will embrace it immediately.

A few days ago, I was leaving a meeting and two people who should have known better remarked, “Well, everyone now has Netflix.” I checked and found that in the U.S and Canada combined they are now at about 18% penetration including me, a very satisfied customer. But, that means that 82% do not have the service. Hardly everyone. Way too many pundits look to peers and friends as the benchmark of acceptance instead of the facts.

In his ill fated runs for the presidency disgraced former Senator John Edwards did make a very inspiring stump speech often referred to as “The Two Americas.” He complained that present day America had two tiers of healthcare, education and opportunity. I thought his solution to the dilemma was completely wrong but, if you had a conscience, the speech itself was moving.

Well, in marketing we face the same thing. Virtually all of you reading this will embrace the new technologies and your use of media options will expand and likely become more pleasant. But, just because you, your friends, co-workers, and clients have hopped onto the bandwagon does not mean that everyone has or will.

Did you know that approximately 17% of American adults are functionally illiterate, 25% have no credit card, and 18% are unbanked? They still buy beer, groceries, fast food, and pick-up trucks but they are not comparison shopping with a digital device or ordering stocks on line for a $7 commission.

And, how about the graying of America? People now in their sixties may live 30 more years. I hope to be one of them. ☺ Will we continue to upgrade our technological choices or will be still be paying a cable bill 25 years from now? Many of us will have the money but will we embrace all of the new offerings that will come at us with increasing frequency?

My purpose here is to plea for balance among marketers. Lots of things such as TV, couponing, some radio, and definitely newspaper do not pack the wallop that they once had. But the underclass and the mature, both upscale or not, will definitely not keep up with the changes. This will give conventional media a longer life that some futurists currently think.

So what do I think will happen? A few quick forecasts would be:

1) The data explosion will continue in all forms.
2) New gadgetry will amaze us all and become obsolete relative to newcomers every couple of years.
3) Mobile will boom either via phones, i-pads or new inventions. It will eventually largely replace promotional activities such as printed coupon vehicles and let you negotiate at retail by showing competitive offerings to a salesperson.
4) More and more media will become subscription based and some TV as we know it will go to a paid format and be available on a dozen or more devices.
5) Some video will be global in scope. Google has sat on YouTube for a few years. At some point, they or a competitor will start a network or two that is 100% digital and knows no borders. Actors will love the instant global exposure and marketers can advertise worldwide cost efficiently. The English language may spread faster as a result as well. Sorry, Mandarin.
6) Measurement of the emerging media will get much better but media executives will still struggle to optimize the media mix.
7) Direct response in all forms will grow. Some of that will come from product placement in programming where you can stop a program and order the sofa seen in the sitcom or set up a test drive for the car the star is driving.

I remain very excited about the future of media. Not a day goes by where I do not wish that I could start my career all over again as I ponder the amazing opportunities to come. But, remember, consumers lag technology and there remains a strong minority of Americans who have yet to enter the on-ramp of the information superhighway. Some never will.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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