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After novelty of a new medium fades, message remains

04 August 2013 · By Joe Talcott

Even after the news industry completes its print-to-digital transition — trading pulp for pixels and gee-whiz gadgetry — one thing will stay constant: the message.

During the past 10 years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to attend the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity six times. In those years, we’ve seen some amazing changes in technology and the responses to those changes from marketers and creative professionals.

In this past decade, new technology has literally changed the lives of millions. And businesses and marketers have had to adjust to those changes. Smartphones, tablets, and social networks have had a huge influence on Cannes Lions’ entries and winners.

But this year was different.

I believe the 2013 festival sent a significant signal of change in the area of commercial creativity.

There is, you see, a historical pattern with the use of new communications technologies. Language, writing, and printing all have followed that pattern.

The same pattern has held true with modern technologies: telephones, radio, and television (including its many incremental innovations, such as colour, multiple channels, digital, flat screens, etc.).

Marshall McLuhan summed up the pattern with his famous “The medium is the message” assertion. He stated that the medium (print, radio, TV) was much more significant than any of the individual messages it carries.

I believe this is especially true when the medium is new.

For example, when radios were introduced, the public rushed to acquire them. If you didn’t have a radio, you would go to a neighbour’s house just to experience the magic of sound coming through the air and into the home.

The medium was, indeed, the message.

But as radio became common, the medium moved from the foreground to the background. People didn’t talk about the fact that someone had a radio; they talked about what they heard on the radio.

The pattern is this: from “the medium is the message” to “the message is the message.”

When smartphones and tablets were introduced, we experienced all the excitement that past generations felt with the introduction of radio. “Look, I have an iPhone,” someone would proudly say as they let you see it. “That is amazing” was the typical reply.

And in Cannes, we saw ideas that took full advantage of the “wow factor” of the new technology. At the festival in 2011, the Renault Espace won a Gold Lion for a very cool demonstration of the car on an iPad. It not only showed off the features of the car, but very nicely demonstrated the “that is amazing” features of the tablet.

The medium was still the message.

This year, all those tablets, smartphones, and social networks have lost the pizazz of “new.” They have become “normal,” just like those world-changing technologies of the past.

The very clever “Dumb Ways to Die” (DWTD) campaign won five Grand Prix awards in 2013, making it the most-awarded campaign in Cannes Lions history.  Even advertising legend Lee Clow proclaimed on stage, “I wish I had done that.”

DWTD certainly used social networks and social media to reach a global audience. But the campaign didn’t win because it used social media. It won because it came from a real insight — young people do stupid things, but they don’t want to appear dumb — and a brilliant, memorable, and creative execution.

This is a great example where “The Message is the Message.”

This is good news for those of us who practice the craft of marketing and commercial creativity. And good news for those in the news media business. Because, despite the fact we’ve wrestled with all the new technologies and platforms, we are in the message business.

There will be new technologies that will again have us all enthusing “that is amazing,” but it will be the messages that use those technologies that stand the test of time. And newspapers do news “messages” better than anyone.

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The “Bottom-Line Marketing” blog aims to bring together the principles behind marketing with the real-world experiences of newspapers transitioning to newsmedia companies. Our bloggers are some of the leading marketers at the world’s leading newsmedia companies today, most with experiences with packaged goods and brands such as McDonald's and Disney. They will aim to show how marketing – often under-utilised in the news industry – improves the bottom line (even a baby's bottom).

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