Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Social Media Confusing? Maybe This Dead Guy Can Help

A friend of mine who's brother worked at Goodby Berlin and Silverstein (yeah, it was awhile ago) turned me on to a book about a someone who was sort of a hero around there. He quickly became one of mine too. The guy was dead already but the work that he'd done that inspired folks around there. Enough to put his quotes on the wall and, well, even write a book about him.

Reading The Book of Gossage was literally a turning point for my thinking about advertising and how communication relates to media. Gossage was not only a copywriter but an individual thinker and the promoter of rather outlandish professor from Canada named Marshall McLuhan. If you haven't heard of him, maybe you've heard the phrase "The medium is the message." McLuhan felt that all media were extension of the human body and as such carried their own innate messages. Like hands and and feet have their own message so do all media. For example email, sending an HTML coded email has a much different meaning than leaving a hand written note for a spouse on a kitchen counter - even if they have the same message. But they are both extensions of the person who created them.

Gossage not only helped introduce this man to America but let his own work be informed by McLuhan's teachings. Take for instance his early interactive thinking for Scientific American: The Great International Paper Airplane Contest. Gossage asked his readers to interact with the brand instead of providing them yet another ad to read. He actaully let his client's media become the contest instead of simply running a print ad. Sure, brand sponsored events are common place now, but this was the 60s and his contest was far more brand relevant than most things you see today.

Magazines are shrinking, TV viewership is down and people, especially digital natives, will only engage what interests them or at least offers them value. McLuhan and Gossage believed even then, that media would become all immersive and that it would become impossible to be a media specialist. We are in that state now. Soon it will be utterly impossible to function only as ad agency or digital agency or be a traditional creative or digital creative. More will be demanded of both agencies and creatives.

It's obvious the future of advertising is beyond print and TV. But the future of new media is no longer "wow they did that really cool thing @ www. coolthing dot com." With digital natives running their lives online, having a future there requires real value. Howard worked hard to create value for his readers, the consumer, beyond bullet points in a brief. Read his book with an open mind about the future.

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