Beer coasters and digital – a Q&A with Joe Talcott

Joe Talcott’s comments around beer coasters and online has got to be the most vigorously discussed topic in the world of media this week.

People have been lining up to provide counter-arguments to the comments made, and some have supported his stance and what has been said.

Personally, I like what he said and I’m loving the debate around the larger issues of measurement and accountability. I approached Joe with a few questions and he was courteous enough to come back to me with some answers.

1.Do you believe the Digital ad industry needs to be more transparent around what defines online usage when trying to lobby for ad dollars? ie – splitting out utilities such as banking etc, splitting out social tools like facebook etc? If so, why?

Every marketer is being asked to demonstrate ROI for the funds they invest. In turn, they are asking all media to provide better metrics to help them determine that ROI. Digital advertising is quite new, and the measurements of that media are still being developed. Every media has improved their metrics over time, and I think the same will be true with digital. Advertisers and media need metrics to transact business (the “currency”), but these metrics are nearly always at least one step removed from the ‘holy grail’ for which marketers are searching. That is, what effect did my activity and it’s components (media, idea, production, distribution, etc.) have on revenue. In the ROI equation, the “I” is easy to determine, it is the “R” that remains elusive. Until we master that core measurement, all media representatives will justifiably be asked to provide better, more accurate, more transparent and more useful information on how audiences engage with their media.

2. One area of discussion now is the value of an ‘eyeball’ online … what is more valuable in a media channel sense and why in your opinion. A regular reader of the Herald Sun who buys a copy a few times a week, or a web surfer than lands on a news site a couple of times per month pushed via Google.

I won’t speak directly about the comparison (a print reader vs an online reader) because I believe they are very different experiences and advertisers will use those experiences differently. Most online media initially sold on “eyeballs”. We’ve moved toward metrics that are more relevant for online audiences. But because advertisers and audiences can engage with each other online in a dynamic way, we need to find better ways to measure that engagement. I think we still have a fair way to go before we have this one sorted.

3. Why do you feel there is a portion of the industry that almost seem to be cheering and willing the ‘demise of print and TV’ … why do you think this is generating some traction despite the fact both channels have stayed remarkably stable over the past 10 years in terms of users?

I confess that I am somewhat bewildered by this. History teaches us that people adopt new technology and embrace or reject it based on its relevance in their lives. When television was introduced there were those that (probably gleefully) predicted the death of radio. After all they said, “who needs radio when you have radio with pictures”? But radio changed. Dramatically. And people found that both media served a valuable role in their lives. I see the same thing happening with digital media. “Traditional” media is changing and people are using those media along with digital media.

The raging debates about whether TV, newspapers, magazines and other media will survive in a digital world is interesting but irrelevant. The marketplace will make that decision.

4. Is social networking the revolution many claim it is, or an evolution of something people have always done – socialise and share with friends – that has become more scaleable due to technology?

The Internet has enabled a spectacular revolution. I look at the history of human communications technology and divide it into four giant Advances. The First Advance was language. A technology that changed the world; that enabled civilisation itself. The Second Advance, Writing, made an equally enormous impact. Writing is a time machine. It allowed people to communicate to the future and to understand the past. Will Durant, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer, historian and philosopher put it this way, “Writing bound the generations together with a common heritage; it created that ‘Country of the Mind’ in which, because of writing, genius need not die”. The advent of writing enabled one society, one generation, to speak with their children’s children.  Writing enabled progress and the development of civilisation. The Third Advance – printing – supercharged writing. Gutenberg was not modest about his invention, but he was accurate when he proclaimed, “Like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light heretofore unknown to shine amongst men”. Printing delivered education to the non-elite; it fuelled revolutions; it enabled science; it changed the world. Printing gave birth to mass media, to the ability for one person to communicate to many.

Today we’re living in what I propose is the Fourth Advance in communication –  The Connected Collective. For the first time individuals are able to communicate not only one-to-one or one to the masses, but one group with another group, one group with the masses, or the masses to one group. The Fourth Advance is a living, dynamic, moving network never seen before. That is a revolution.

Social networks are part of that revolution, but they themselves are not it in its entirety. As you point out, socialising is not new, it is a basic human need. But the Fourth Advance is new and like the prior three Advances, it is changing the world.

5. Given the hype around media consumption, is it time we started looking at more qual metrics and less quant – ie the quality of engagement during the time the channel is consumed as opposed to the quantity of time spent using the media. The analogy I use is a lot of people spend a good 10 hrs in the gym every week so by that logic we should be doing a lot of gym based advertising (if its all about time spent not quality of engagement/appointment viewing etc.

Until we get to the core ROI measurement (Question 1), we need more and better metrics, full stop. Qualitative and quantitative. Each metric is a piece of a puzzle that marketers are trying to assemble into a meaningful and useful story to help them be more effective. That puzzle, I believe, still has many missing pieces.


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