Charles Vallance: Forget media fragmentation, mass consumption is as relevant as ever

Integrity will be key for any marketer in 2016. I don’t mean this in the moral sense but in its literal sense; the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the state of being whole, the condition of being unified or sound in construction”.

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There is something profoundly attractive about a return to unity and wholeness, even if it is wishful thinking. We are told by all sorts of trend spotters that the world is getting more fragmented, faster, more frenetic. Audiences are more disparate, atomised and individualised.

We’re also told that media habits are becoming more multi-layered, multi-platform, multi-device. But I believe these predictions are wrong.

Admittedly, my counter-prediction is based largely on a hunch. But hunches, in my experience, are one of the few things you can truly rely on. This is especially so when they are backed up by listening to (rather than hypothesising at) the end users of the products we advertise.

My sixth sense tells me that all the supposed trends above are not driven by customers but by the technology we have at our disposal. In other words they are supply- rather than demand-led. And as a result they are transitional; they will soon be gone, replaced by something less disparate, hectic and fractured.

I say this because of what I don’t hear. I don’t hear people say in research ‘I wish my life was more fragmented and disjointed’; ‘what I really want is more devices and apparatus to live stream more of my life to more of my acquaintances’; or ‘I wish I could receive a greater quantity of more highly targeted, unsolicited third-party communication masquerading as editorial’.

I don’t hear any of this. Yet in many ways this is what we are serving up, as if we are deliberately turning a deaf ear to the more enduring, simpler motivations of the human condition.

I would go further and suggest that parts of our industry relish this supply-side descent into fragmentation frenzy. I was at a conference the other day where one trend spotter seemed jubilant when he announced “human beings now officially have a shorter concentration span than goldfish”. Can this be true? Probably not. But even if it were, would that really mean we should commit ourselves and our media plans to the energy sapping transience of constant partial attention? How is that going to help our society, let alone the brands we build within it? We need to start knitting things together rather than dislocate them further.

But, as I say, I think we are past the point of peak dislocation. The future will see us return to more integrated and holistic behaviours. Culturally, there are lots of encouraging indicators such as the digital detox movement on the US West Coast, the growing importance attached to achieving a work/life balance, the rise of mindfulness and the resurgence of pastimes such as knitting, book clubs, dance, cooking and gardening.

Less quaintly, I think we ignore the rise and rise of real-time mass consumption at our peril. Whether it’s the football or the Super Bowl, The O2 or Glastonbury, destination TV or the Christmas ‘sadvertising’ frenzy, shared mass experience (once known as mass media) has never been in better health.

Despite this, however, it has become fashionable for modern media plans to resemble a giant minestrone of micro media. You’ll have a rough idea of the recipe: you plough some money from your budget into whatever the newest platform is, reheat with a dollop of paid social, add a hefty sprig of eCRM, a splash of user-generated content, a dash of seeding and then season with a YouTube masthead or sponsored Buzzfeed link. Delicious. But it’s not to be mistaken for the main course.

What the minestrone merchants seldom tell us is that television audiences have remained stubbornly strong. According to Pivotal Research 79% of US TV viewing is live, only 9% is time-shifted and a relatively measly 12% is watched via PC/tablet/phone/multimedia device/DVD/Blu-ray. Maybe things aren’t as disintegrated as we sometimes assume, and integrity may already be on-trend.

Charles Vallance is the chairman and founder of VCCP. He will be speaking on a panel debate about the opportunities and challenges of using programmatic in the creative process at Marketing Week’s Creative Programmatic event on 2 March. For more information and to book your place click here.

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