Agnosticism Has No Place in Media Decisions

We Need Better Buzzwords for Neutrality

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Ahmad Islam Ahmad Islam
Buzzwords and catch phrases are a critical ingredient in the recipe of any culture or subculture. From the underground language shared by those immersed in urban culture to the otherwise indecipherable gibberish spouted by IT pros everywhere, unique words, phrases, and language are the norm in our day-to-day lives.

The marketing world is no different. The beauty of the agency game is if you can't find a word or phrase to express what you want to say, the solution is simple: You make one up.

I'd like to introduce commonground by taking a look at some of the buzz words and catch phrases in today's marketing world. Not trying to offend anybody or cause further confusion. Just want to bring some clarity to things that seem to confuse clients and agencies alike from time to time. Feel free to weigh-in!!

Are You Really Media-Neutral? (Or just happy to see me?)
New media (even though it's now old media) still has the world a bit shook up as there are a lot of dollars that want to jump there but not without just a little more real inventory, a little less risk, and a lot more clarity around the buzz word of the moment: ROI (more on this to follow). Add that to the need to continue speaking effectively through "old media" and you have our beautiful situation.

In this context, the truly media-neutral agency is a gem: If you can align your brand with an agency that can think with you and execute across a wide range of media, then you've got a platform to deliver the kind of marketing that's built to handle uncertain futures of consumer options and preferences.

So, we have a growing chorus of media-neutral (or, media-agnostic) folk claiming "I can do this, that, and the other thing. And I do it well." But do they really?

Well let's test that with three thoughts.
  1. Agnostic is the wrong word. By non-religious definition, (bartleby.com, American Heritage), agnostic means: (adj) 1. Relating to or being an agnostic. 2. Doubtful or noncommittal.

    If we riff on the example Bartleby gives, we get: A media-agnostic agency does not deny the existence of "best medium" but holds that one cannot know for certain whether or not it exists.

    Well, I am definitely not agnostic. I have no doubt that there is a best-fit media or media mix to address most client challenges and ensure business objectives are met.

    What makes this not a nit-pick is that the use of agnostic as a synonym is another example of how we are prone to lose sight of relevance in the face of cool phraseology.

  2. A longing for the non-linear. If we are to be true thought-leaders and effective agency partners for our clients, then we can't work in linear spaces. The currently accepted definition of "media neutral" is not so outside the box if you consider that most of the chatter on media neutrality lies implicitly on the point just before we make a decision on media. That's a linear process: listen, analyze, decide.

    We need that linearity up to a point -- we've all lived enough of policies formed under the Ready, Fire, Aim! method.

    But once we begin to propose solutions, we need to find a way to get out of certain artificial constraints. There's a way to do this even under the now hated-on approach of the media-biased. Take either your media-biased choice or your media-neutral choice and submit those media to scenarios. You may end up with your bias, or not, but you can be sure to have added a valuable step.

    There-in is the dilemma that brings us to our Carrie Bradshaw moment. For the "media-neutral" agency that still specializes in traditional tactics, is media neutrality really possible?

  3. Active Neutrality. Neutral does not mean "static." This point follows closely behind the non-linear approach since you'll also find yourself in the box if you don't allow for invention.

    Honest media-neutrality must, at some point, yields invention of media, as the pre-defined alternatives can't rest on incumbent status. I don't say this lightly. It's not easy to invent media. You'll see a thousand false starts here and some misconceptions, too. For example, some might call experiential marketing an invention of a medium. That's right and wrong -- wrong when we think that simply using place and activity makes for a medium.

    Consumers must see it as medium and respond to it as media. That happens with subscriber relationships, real and metaphorical subscribers to that medium as an expected communicator or value-delivery system for the brand.

    You can get there by starting with the "common ground" -- the shared interest of the brand and target audience. By understanding this shared interest you can identify the proper media -- traditional & non-traditional, or innovative, or below the line, or whatever phrases we are using this week to describe anything that isn't TV, print, or radio -- to effectively connect the dots between consumers and a client's products and brands.


The next time you hear somebody boast about being neutral -- or, better yet, agnostic -- drop a few questions in that mix of claims and find out where they really stand.
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