McLuhan’s cell phone

Mass communication guru Marshall McLuhan taught us that the medium is the message. As marketing pros, we understand that brand is the embodiment of the message. So in theory, brand and media are inextricably entwined concerns, right?

One of my partners attended ad:tech 2006 in Chicago last year. The organization, which also holds events in New York, San Francisco, London, Shanghai and Sydney, bills itself like this:

ad:tech is an interactive advertising and technology conference dedicated to connecting all sides of today’s brand marketing landscape. Worldwide shows blend keynote speakers, topic driven panels and interactive workshops to provide attendees with the tools and techniques they need to compete in a changing world. We’re committed to bringing you the now and the next of modern marketing.Who should attend? CEOs, CMOs, Marketing Execs, Brand Managers, Ad Execs, Media Directors, Buyers, Planners, Product Managers, Solution Providers, Creative Directors.

Issues to be addressed: Email marketing, Podcast, Consumer Insights Blocking and Tackling: Data Details Strategic Roadmaps, Plans, Case Studies of Integrated Programs.

If you read all this and conclude that ad:tech is cutting edge, that it’s where marketing is going, then they have successfully projected the intended message.

But there’s something missing. Something huge. ad:tech is ignoring the most important technological channel in the lives of the most significant demographic market perhaps in the history of the world. The medium is mobility and the market is the Millennial generation.

Millennials currently range in age from about 7-27, and they represent buying power that’s unprecedented for a group so young. Teenage Research Unlimited estimates that young adults spent nearly $160 billion in 2005. Ketchum estimates their financial stroke at $172 billion, and everybody watching the gen expects that number to rise dramatically in the coming years. From a marketing and branding standpoint, they’re a massive force to be reckoned with.

Anybody who’s ever paid the slightest attention to this group knows that their mobile phones are oxygen to them. In fact, mobility is the medium the defines this generation. It’s how they connect to each other and to the content that matters to them. It’s a critically important tool in helping them shape their personal identities and forge communal bonds. It’s the most intensely personalized communications medium ever developed – you can customize its look and functionality, and it’s linked to the individual, not a location.

Millennials are turning away from television and other forms of traditional media, and while they still spend plenty of time with the Internet, some marketers will probably be surprised to learn that they’re abandoning the use cases we take for granted. While they love social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook), and YouTube is simply exploding, they’re moving away from e-mail. It’s not immediate enough for them.

These factors should be exerting a tremendous influence on every marketer who targets customers under 30. But I almost never see campaigns that are integrating mobile plays, and this personal perspective was validated in spades by ad:tech. Best we can tell, there were precisely two mobile vendors in attendance. No mobility panels, no major sessions, nada (which is evident from their own promotional verbiage noted above). And the general awareness level of mobility and its importance to the Mill market was almost nonexistent.

How is it possible that an org dedicated to tech in an industry is failing to notice the most dominant technological trend affecting its members? Imagine that it’s 1997 and you go to a conference on technology in advertising, marketing and branding, and only a couple people are talking about the Internet. That’s where we seem to be.

Well, it’s easy enough to flog people for being behind the curve, but it’s not especially productive. The point here is that a veritable tsunami of opportunity is cresting for those positioned to take advantage. Think-forward brand pros need to understand the power of mobility and begin integrating it into their activities now. We have to speak to our audiences in their own language, and it does us no good to grok the language if we aren’t seeding the channels they’re tuned into.

Medium = Message.

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3 responses to “McLuhan’s cell phone

  1. Pingback: Doubleclick report missing the mobility picture? « Black Dog Strategic·

  2. Pingback: Razzberrysync presents: inforMotion·

  3. Pingback: Agencies “don’t get” social media: sad, but true… « Black Dog Strategic·

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