Marshall McLuhan is more relevant than ever

Marshall McLuhan is more relevant than ever

The medium in which the message is received is still crucial to a good comms strategy.

The medium is the message.

This is the most famous quotation from 1960s philosopher Marshall McLuhan. He coined the term to explain how content is interpreted differently in different media. He argued that the context makes a difference. Many observers are currently rediscovering this. 

At its simplest, we know that the same ad for a diamond earring would get a different reaction if seen in Vogue or on Refinery29. The item would come across as being more expensive in the former. 

As well as the obvious prestige or accessibility provided by the immediate environment, McLuhan cited the sensory differences of different media. A 'hot' medium does the work for you – for example, for The Avengers, you can just sit in front of it and soak it up. A 'cold' medium requires that you do the work – for example, if you read The Economist, you need to concentrate. These definitions may now be outdated and too binary, but what is true is that the medium in which the message is received is crucial to a good communications strategy. 

In addition, 'cheap' mass reach, with no consideration to the environment, frequency or channel, can be costly. The Advertising Association has provided evidence that ad bombardment is eroding audience trust. As Robert Rakowitz put it in his call to action for media sustainability, "reach at no cost is reach at all cost and what we need is reach with responsibility".

"The medium is the message" is even more true now. The media is not just a vehicle or delivery system for ad messages. Media is also where people complain about customer service. It is a widely held belief among the informed public that the best and quickest way to get a response to a customer complaint is to tweet about it. 

It's where people share their pride in a new purchase or look for inspiration for what to buy next.

A one-size-fits-all approach to this on the basis of last-click attribution is both naïve and potentially harmful to the brand. As MediaCom’s Richard Davies explains this nonsense: "Man wakes up with a terrible hangover, blames the last drink he had, the glass of water by his bed."

The medium is where people shop, where they request samples and where they dream, plan and collaborate. All of this must surely be of consideration when the copy for the advertising is planned.

There is no time in the history of media planning when it has been more significant to understand and consider the role of the medium in terms of its impact on the intended message from advertisers. 

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom

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