April 13, 2010

Marshall McLuhan's 2008 Media Plan



In light of the fact that TV writer's (TVW) are on strike, media planners should take this opportunity to pick up where the TVW's left off. We don't suggest that they start writing dumb TV program scripts, but we do suggest that they should insert the meaning of each medium they recommend in the plan, and how it will contribute to a brand's image.

To date, the way most media planners have explained the collective impact of an integrated multi-media plan is through Reach and Frequency. If Marshall McLuhan were here today we expect he would say, "That's just not good enough."


For those of you who were hung over during Communications 101, according to Wikipedia, "Marshall McLuhan's 1962 book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, popularised the terms global village and gutenberg galaxy. McLuhan analysed the effects of various communication media and techniques on European culture and human consciousness."

His message is so simple and direct. It offers a justification for media planners to be more prolific in their media plans than by relying only on numbers. That's important, particularly today since consumer's look at brands more than just by the numbers. McLuhan is the modern equivalent of a hero for media planners and yet his legacy on how the collective impact of an integrated media plan is expressed solely on the basis of brain-dead, misleading and dangerously deceptive Reach and Frequency "estimates."

Who knows? Perhaps the notion that media planners should go further than TVW's do will show that they are no better at scripting interesting, informative and compelling media plans as TVW's are at creating meaningful TV shows.

But at this point in time we actually don't really know for certain and therefore we think it's worth a try. The other reason we think MadAve should consider this is because it is essentially necessary. Media vehicles are no longer TV, radio print or OOH. They go by names that not even McLuhan would understand.


More than ever, our clients need to know what the message symbolism is and/or what its placement will say about them if they place their message in mobile, widgets or digital OOH, or something as new as McDonald's inserting their links on kiddie's school report cards!

Marketers need context more than ever. Next year's plans include some fundamentals in order to understand where and why these new platforms were recommended and what impact what they will say about the brand more than the simple CPM. Most media planners will not have the time or inclination to go back to school to become a cultural media anthropologist, but they do need to start acting as if they were one in a movie.

Bewildering almost to be point of being bizarre, most people either heard of and/or saw Marshall McLuhan from a brief cameo appearance he made almost 30 years ago in Woody Allen's film, "Annie Hall," when Woody nihilistically ushered him out from behind a movie poster to make a humorous point.


Suppose we were to decide to write a screen play about Marshall McLuhan's life and work. Who would we cast? That's easy, Jeff Goldblum. Why? We think he's great. However, since we're not casting experts, it would most likely be wise look at Mr. Goldblum's work as a guide to help us determine if he was the right person.

The problem is that he has such broad capability that any one film should not be used to base our decision on. So why don't we look at him in a few. We selected the three we like him in best. Hey, it's our movie.

By sheer coincidence, Mr. Goldblum also makes a most memorable cameo in "Annie Hall," and proves both McLuhan's point and sums up 1970s in his 10 seconds on camera. The scene is shot at a Hollywood Hills party where he's making a phone call to his therapist/psychic guide, completely stoned out of his mind, where he says, "I forgot my mantra." If you don't get it, you were probably not born until 1980.


Next, in his role as an "Investigative Journalist" in "The Big Chill," we love his one liner, which sums up the 1980's, pitching a story to his boss, a People Magazine editor, while at a wake after a funeral for a friend, "I don't know, it's about everything: Um... suicide, despair, where did our hope go? Lost hope, that's it, lost hope."

And then finally, in "The Fly" with Geena Davis, where he acts as a reporter who turns into an insect. He pleads, "Don't be afraid" while Davis's character responds with a line which sums up the 1990's, "No. Be afraid. Be very afraid."

So here we are with three ways of looking at Jeff. It's the same actor in each, though the medium with which he is positioned and his role is different. Each says something different about him. Or we should say, our take on him is different based on the content in which we are seeing him.

In the same regard, the best way to help a client understand complex 2008 media plans is to give them 3 media options to choose from.


We like options because there are an infinite number of ways one can spend a media budget. Therefore, narrowing them down to three seems like it would be useful to a client. The other reason is that we don't know everything about our client's brand, or for that matter, what late-breaking info that may have changed the media plan's requirements since yesterday morning's con call with the client. Lest we forget that we do live in New York minutes.

There are other more "CYA" pragmatic reasons as well, such as the idea (at least) that if a client chooses one option from a group of three, that client person will think twice before they point the finger at the agency, since they were in fact the party that selected the ultimate approach.

Of course, none of us has ever run into a client that points the finger, though we thought this tactic may be useful in that unlikely case that someday we might!


All that said, we do know that some clients don't want to look at options. They want one and only one plan to review, to berate, to fawn over or to tweak. However, it's still not a bad idea to have one "in your hip pocket" in case the situation arises where you need an alternative option to dodge an impasse.

Bottom-line, regardless of the politics, providing options to choose from is an intelligent way for a client to understand just what they are green-lighting.

Media meetings in 2008 will begin and end better if clients feel they understand what tactic they're going to take. Plus, if it helps educate versus complicate the clients understanding of new media platforms, they may just be more willing to go out of the self-confining boundaries that agencies to date have not helped them break down.

Plus, it may help later on when once the plan is being executed to be a gyroscope to maintain some degree of focus, versus the strategy-du-jour mentality so many brands find themselves reacting to today.

The final reason is that it is fun. Creating a variety of options is like laying out different plot lines in a movie. And it should help everyone understand how realistic the established goals and measured ROI are toward being achieved.

Once the TVW's strike ends, if Jeff Goldblum is reading this, he may get the idea to have one of the more talented TVW's draft a script where he will play Marshall. We don't know how Mr. McLuhan would actually feel about having his life and career produced into a TV movie. But if McLuhan made a choice of who would play him based on the three films we'd have him review, we think he'd choose Goldblum!



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