A few weeks ago, MullenLowe’s Laurence Green wrote an intriguing piece for Campaign in which he laid out why, in his view, the medium is still the message.
As he puts it: "When message and media (and the agents representing each) work side by side rather than at arm’s length from one another, the advertiser wins… as, often, the audience does too."
Referring back to Marshall McLuhan’s writings of the 60s, Green challenges the industry, calling on publishers, platforms, brand-owners and agencies to reverse "the corporate harakiri" and re-acquaint message and medium.
I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, but think that we need to go further when assessing McLuhan’s writings in the light of the communications landscape in 2018.
Following on from last year’s developments and revelations, the role of context continues to dominate the industry’s agenda.
At conference after conference you’ll hear speakers – rightly – warn against the cost and ineffectiveness of chasing audiences at the lowest possible price, regardless of environment.
As an industry, we are starting to realise that where your seen is as important as when.
By way of explaining how message and medium are intrinsically linked, Green uses the example of how people might respond to reading his Campaign article in print vs online.
Yet I think we have to dig deeper in order to accurately reflect our complex eco-system of "hybrid", multi-platform media.
At Newsworks, we teamed up with Flamingo and Tapestry to examine the relevance of McLuhan’s thinking for the media landscape today.
Using a range of techniques, the research revealed that while the medium is still the message – or rather as McLuhan also puts it – the medium still massages the message, there are some important differences in how that happens today.
Not least is the question of what a medium is. The development of the online world as a means of marketing to consumers has changed the definition of a medium forever.
Our relationship with established media has been reconfigured and we have seen the emergence of what we are calling "hybrid mediums" – where once single platform mediums have evolved to adapt to the changing landscape.
We now have mixed-medium experiences, encompassing text, audio and video all in one environment.
We’ve gone from thinking through a news story, to "feeling" it in a far more emotive sense, with video and social media adding to this.
Meanwhile, digital mediums have added to the availability of divergent sources of news and information.
Green suggested that reading his Campaign column online is likely more disposable and that the same message in print may carry more gravitas.
Our research did indeed support the continued importance of news in its printed format.
When looking at the whole range of news sources from TV to radio to social media, newspapers are 51% more likely to provide depth, detail and the all-important analysis around a story.
However, suggesting that online news is disposable does established media brands operating online a disservice.
It treats online environments as one amorphous mass, rather than acknowledging the vast and varying range of online domains.
With hybrid mediums creating much more fluidity in how media is consumed across platforms, the role of the media brand becomes even more important.
As media channels blur together due to convergence and the ubiquity of digital, it’s arguable that the key component of communication is the brand more than the platform.
For newsbrands and other established media, brand strength is integral to success in an environment awash with sources of information and content creators.
It helps them to stand-out from the online crowd.
In addition, the fact that different newsbrand platforms appeal to different consumers has the added bonus of making them hugely relevant to all corners of society.
So yes, I agree with Green – the medium is still the message, but the dichotomy is not as simple as print vs online.
In our complex multi-platform world, brand identity and trusted context created by established media brands carries great saliency.
To hijack McLuhan’s terminology – probably unforgivably! – these days, the brand is the boon.
Vanessa Clifford is chief executive of Newsworks