It used to be that we created a message (e.g. ad content) that appeared in a desired context (e.g. a particular medium). That is no longer the normal case, thanks to interactivity and a different way to make references. We are in a future where the media constantly evolve fluid messages. Maybe it is a mess.

Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement ”The medium is the message” is grounded in the symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. Within marketing a common interpretation/use is the recognition that one should preferrably select a medium that support/enhance the message and its sender. For example, if an ad appears in a high quality ”independent” medium the commercial message is most likely perceived as more valuable that if it was received through one of the senders ”own” publicaion.

One aim of PR is to have ”the right” journalist say something that a CEO finds valuable for his/her organization. Or, I am sometimes hired as a consultant to deliver a message to my clients staff, simply because it is more trustworthy if I say it than if the client him/herself says it.

On a side note I believe that many bloggers (still) find it more valuable if their content is found/repeated by a highly renommed newspaper than just echoed by another blogger. Mark, the value I am trying to denote is different than the one inherent from the newspapers higher (traditonal) reach (numbr of readers).

Interactvity and referencing

There are a couple of things playng tricks with us now, and increasingly even more in the future. The first has to do with interactivity, the other with referencing. Both complicates McLuhans original context, which concerned linear media for mass audiences. Let’s take one thing at a time.

Interactivity is here understood as suggested by Rafaeli: ”the extent to which messages in a sequence relate to each other, and especially the extent to which later messages recount the relatedness of earlier messages”. Incrasingly we all realize more and more that the ads (on the web) we see depend on what we have seen, said, and done before. This is a result when the ads (e.g. banners) are placed by sophisticated ad distribution algorithms, like Google Adwords.

Furthermore, there is evidence all over the place that every (medium) wants to be more interactive. This quest is not new. It has simply become extremely common and implemented.

By referencing I am not really referring to the academic writing style, but rather our habit and need to point to a specific medium. For example, ”I read in [nnnn] that” or ”did you see [mmmm] in the TV program last night…]”. In addition, the web by definiton is all about referencing, even though we call it linking.

That is most likely something else

The last reference I did (under the word ”linking”) was what I saw today at 17:45 GMT +1. It referred to an article in the English edition of Wikipedia, which is a higly interactive medium. As a matter of fact, the article was most recently edited on October 12, 2009, the third revision in October only. Hence, it is most likely that you will see something else than I did when I created the link.

Earlier today I happened to watch another great TED talk. This one featured Rory Sutherland delivering Life lessons from an ad man. I saw it on the bus, on my HTC Magic with the help of the app Mother TED. Sutherland’s talk was immediately followed by a 150 second commercial from IBM.

I found the IBM spot very interesting for two reasons. First, because it concerns Stockholm (where I live) and our “smart toll system” for vehicles going in and out from the city. Second, and more important here, because the commercial is actually an illustration of what Sutherland says: “it is perception that matters”. In other words, the spot appeared perfectly after the TED talk. They both supported each other in a symbiotic fashion

I wanted to discuss this in a mailing list, so I threw in a note about it. Afterwards, when I needed to see the spot again, it was not there. This time I viewed it on my laptop directly surfing to TED:s talk site. As a matter of fact, the ad was replaced by another one. The IBM ad is on YouTube (I think;) in case you want to see it.

We have seen nothing yet

If you think that automatically placed ad words, banners, and perhaps even ad overlays on Web videos are the only ways to go – think again. The content we see and hear is more and more assembled the very moment we ask for it. And the assemblage of the content items we used to call a “medium” is increasingly becoming more fluid and personalized.

What does all this mean?

I do now know what this means, besides a hope that my dissertation (“Artificial market actors, 2001) will be more useful. One practical implementation is that we no longer can be sure about what someone, or something, else is actually referring to. And that marketers will find it harder to determine where, and in wich context, their messages appear.

Does all this make any sense to us? That is an open question.