In his book, The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams makes a great observation about the difficulty we have in handling life in the late 20th century.
He blames life’s complexities on what he calls “deviant smart people”. His idea is that even though they are a tiny percentage of the population, throughout history these people have invented things that ruin life for the rest of us. As Adams says: “We got knowledge and technology before we got intelligent. We’re a planet of nearly 6 billion ninnies living in a civilisation that was designed by a few thousand amazingly smart deviants.”
Information has grown faster than our ability to process it. Consider these facts. The Sunday Times contains more information than the average person in the 17th century was likely to come across in a lifetime. The amount of information available to us through computerisation and telecoms doubles every year. There has been more information produced in the past 30 years than during the previous 5,000.
The implications of this information explosion for those of us in the business of communicating and selling to consumers is significant. The sheer number of commercial messages people are faced with each day is growing at a frightening rate – as well as the places where advertising now appears. Nowadays anything is a medium – a TV ad, telephone, take-away lid, a tube station or even a toilet roll (Tabasco’s “You should have had Tabasco light instead” campaign).
Sony PlayStation has even used drugs as a medium. In the May issue of The Face it inserted a collection of roaches for putting in a joint.
The idea of everything being a medium is in its early phases of development in the UK. In the US, predictions are being made about new opportunities for media outlets you never thought possible, just around the corner. Here are just a few: dolls that say an end-line when the string is pulled; hospital ceilings; shower heads; compact discs; plane window shades; condoms.
But this information-overload isn’t just about new kinds of media outlets that haven’t been used before. If we look at the increase in what might be called traditional media, this is also exploding. Look at the number of TV ads transmitted in just one day in the UK.
In 1987, 500 were transmitted daily; by 1997 the figure has increased to 11,000. The number predicted for the year 2007 is 33,000. These figures aren’t just amazing, they’re scary. The numbers of ads shown on TV has gone up 22 times in the past ten years.
This is why the importance of strategic media is making it to the top of most agendas at the moment. Finding powerful ways of involving consumers with your message in this world of information overload is now one of the most important issues in marketing. Of course, creating original and impactful communication is still as crucial as it has ever been. But the idea that the most important factor is the creative message – which is still a powerfully enduring assumption in our business – is now being challenged.
If the media world has changed so dramatically, the industry needs to change its attitudes about media’s role in communication and the tools we use to help us understand it. In this brave new world, it makes business sense to have brilliant media thinking at the beginning of the process and ensure the media ideas are as powerful as the creative.