I’ve been in the media for nearly 30 years and have been on every platform in my career. Print media, television, billboards, radio, and of course, with the rise of the internet, I’ve tried my hand at just about every platform I have a pretty good overview of the industry, given that I’ve made this trek across 12 different media platforms in 12 different countries. But there was one thing we always had in common: we were under the spell of numbers. The master was always the advertiser, and they had to be served. With numbers. And big numbers at that. If we had them, and we proved it in some official way, everyone was happy. The actual benefit to the client side – and I learned this well – was almost impossible to measure until a few years ago.
When talking about communication impact, a sharp distinction needs to be made between “mass” and “premium” products. This was not as important in earlier times as it is nowadays; everyone was simply focused on mass appeal. We often hear the slogan, presented as a fact, that the gap between the world’s poor and rich people is widening every year, and this has perfectly influenced the expectations of the media. It is also apparent, however, that a large part of the media is still unable to live up to this, and has somehow managed to forget the allure of big numbers. Even for larger companies and multinationals, this is not such a problem if they offer a mass product, since the most important factor in reaching the masses is still the number of people reached by a given communication. Even there, the market is already segmented, since there are still masses who are able to pay, but since a growing proportion of the population is already living below the subsistence level, they do not always act as buyers of mass products. So even there, it is not necessarily a great success if a communication has a high reach, because the poorer the household, the more likely it is to consume the cheapest things, according to the statistics, and the media is clearly one of these. Television is still a big winner in this field, and for a long time online media was seen as its only competitor. Many predicted precisely that, with the growth of Internet penetration, online platforms, which were initially more premium media, would become more and more mass-market. And if you look, this prediction has come true. Of course, this also means that in the traditional mass market, social media platforms and online solutions are now competing with each other. The latter, on the other hand, has always been much cheaper, so it has obviously been easy for it to gain ground.
The rise of social media
What has upset this well-established balance is, of course, the emergence of social media. Suddenly, reach became clearly predictable. No longer were anonymous research companies telling you how many people watched a programme or clicked on a particular online platform, but you could see for yourself. This, of course, changed the whole way of thinking about advertising. For a long time, everyone thought that this was the new panacea, and they were right, of course, but it’s not a cure-all either. The numbers wars started, and social media was very effective in this, because even the ordinary person could see the results with his own eyes, how many people actually looked at the ad, how many reacted to it and how many went further in terms of reactions. Then somehow, the expected glory failed to materialise, because after the initial amazement and joy that this form of media caused, the ads did not bring the expected, concrete results. No potential customers started phoning to say they wanted to buy, and no queues formed outside shops. It’s interesting because this was never expected of any form of media, so somehow, social media was over-promised at the beginning. Then, of course, trust was not helped when Facebook, for example, started filtering out redundant, fake, or dormant profiles, and the wonderful following built up by social media agencies began to diminish dramatically. It has always been a great truth that a communication channel should be used for what it is meant to be used for, and this was equally true for social media platforms. However, in its absence, it has been largely written off by many, saying that it is a “showpiece” and does not deliver real results. So people stopped believing the numbers generated by the platforms and kept looking for the scam.