Traditional media: An industry disrupted


CONSUMERS are enjoying an unprecedented era of choice. That means that there is more competition than ever in the age of Digital Relativity where there is endless content across online platforms vying for the limited time and attention of consumers. These limits are now being fortified by consumers who curate the content that reaches them as much as possible while carefully allowing new content to get a glance.

Indeed, the “free media covenant” has now been smashed into a corner; where all the other old rules lie waiting for their chance at rebirth or simply to wither away with their diminishing audience.

This covenant seems quaint nowadays, but not so long ago consumers accepted the interruption of advertising to their TV viewing or radio listening in exchange for getting content for free. This is no longer acceptable. Current online consumer behavior is tightening. Fewer are willing to allow advertising to interrupt or possibly distract them from content.

Manifesting in the growth of new subscription-based content platforms such as Netflix, consumers are protecting their time and attention from any advertising and standard branding efforts.

Furthermore, ad blockers and blocking options are now taken up with mandatory gusto online to firewall consumers’ unguarded attention from the slick and blunt efforts of brand push.

This is having some effect in creating alternative tech-based advertising and branding efforts in the nativist art of subtle product placement, even post-production, but the savvy of consumers is now so sharply trained and advertising-sensitive that it is extremely difficult to not get caught out and breach existing trust given “within the rules” of transparency in advertising.

Finally, there is evidence that shows consumers globally are increasingly growing distrustful of traditional media.

According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, media has become the least-trusted global institution for the first time. Putting pressure on trust in media is the declining trust in search engines and social media. Facebook has been snagged here on what it allowed during the 2016 US election.

People have retreated into self-curated information bubbles, where they read only that with which they agree as if selecting their playlist for music. Is this simply for reassurance? Is it because nothing beyond that can be believed?

There is a desperate search for stability and truth. The rise of disinformation is poisonous and prevalent. Far beyond sins of omission, this is deliberate, comprehensively transmedia, endlessly repeated and targeted leading to potential changes in opinions and behavior regardless of cost.

Where does it end? And what does it all mean for brands, advertising and media if consumers are losing confidence in the accuracy and the factual accuracy of what they are consuming?

Edelman points out that this may be “the most insidious because it undermines the very essence of rational discourse and decision making. Silence is now deeply dangerous - a tax on truth. The consequences of a loss of belief in reliable information are volatility, societal polarization and an ebbing of faith in society’s governing structures, slowing economic growth and tempting leaders to make short-sighted policy choices. This is the existential challenge of our times.”

Fortunately, we are already seeing the first signs of regret about overdependence on peers and blind reliance on populist leaders. Concern about fake news and their willingness to listen to experts show that people yearn for knowledge. Brands and marketers will have to do more now to engage end-users in these conflicted times to engage in credible and believable ways in the new challenge.

Influence and authority have leeched away from traditional media, and advertising, marketing and PR have all taken a major hit in terms of “trust”. Too many times brands have been found to be exaggerating or lying about their products or service. In recent years, global eruptions of trust have occurred. Among others, the Volkswagen Group were shamed and fined for falsifying their cars’ pollution-emission results. Their false results had been a critical factor underpinning their incredible sales growth across the world because it suited the zeitgeist, the fierce shift into responsible car ownership for environmentally minded drivers. So, their breach of trust was taken as a seismic event because it cut through values statements and was essentially a convenient, useful lie about something which consumers valued above most other decision-making factors.

Trust underpins a brand name and loyalty towards it. Trust is fickle. It is not guaranteed. And the modern era allows distrust to spread across industries and platforms and companies and divisions of companies towards individual products and small-scale services, faster than ever before.

Distrust has affected the time, attention and effort consumers are prepared to offer spontaneously. This means brands need to create content that consumers are interested in so that consumers seek out, rather than avoid or block, content. You cannot so easily lie or exaggerate, especially in areas considered sacred by consumers, such as their values, their concerns and their interests.

In this era of consumer choice, trust and confidence must be earned because the firewalling and blocking will continue and so will consumer activism for breaches of trust.

Mohammed Bin Tarjim

The author is a communication expert