News Media’s Networks Problem


October 16, 2012

First, the obvious statement: News media has an advertising problem.

Next, a less obvious statement: News media’s advertising problem isn’t just volume, the problem is whether its networks are strong enough.

When I discuss marketing with local businesses, even the least sophisticated small businesses understand they have many marketing options other than advertising. They hold events, use daily deal sites, create loyalty rewards programs and co-market with charity groups, among other methods.

Ultimately, these businesses are attempting to create new networks to draw new customers through their doors. And the point of advertising, the most Paleolithic of marketing methods, is to tell a reader, “This product is important enough to appear in our trusted publication, so you should trust it too.” With the ad, the advertising brand attempts to forge a new connection with a customer, creating new network with readers.

Once, when the written word had more power, print advertising could easily forge new networks for advertisers. Remember when the phrase, “Well, I read it in the paper,” meant something? That was print advertising’s heyday.

Then the power moved to radio and then television. And then it…evaporated.

The reasons, I’m sure, are complex, but let’s just chalk them up to the confusion of our current, post-modernist times for the moment.

And yet, because we humans are so visual, print advertising and its digital offspring, display advertising, is the easiest understood kind of advertising there is. A marketer puts up a picture of the product, maybe with a tagline and a logo, and there you go. Advertising! The dollars will just roll in!

But in reality, they don’t. Readers have been desensitized over the decades by a constant bombardment of information. It is a networking method that has lost its value.

In response, display advertisers have been flailing about, subjecting us to click-over, click-under, video, hyper-targeted, re-targeted, personalized, roll-over and take-over ads. A million different ways to bend and shape the display ad so readers will just have to look.

And then Borell comes out with this study reporting that 72% of digital marketing spend is not in display, but every other way imaginable like sponsored websites, social media and email marketing. Attempts to build networks.

From the Borell study, I think we can draw two important conclusions: First, the value of putting advertising next to “trusted” news sources is declining faster than anyone every thought. Second, with the exception of social media advertising (which is really just super-targeted display ads), even the “added digital services” is just a spin-off of display advertising.

In other words: We’re still using old technology when it comes to advertising, but we’re still spending money on every derivation of the old technology we can imagine.

At its core, marketing is about building networks. So, how do you efficiently build new networks?