With all the industry talk and press coverage about media convergence, I wanted to make sure I understood what everyone was talking about. So I went to Ask.com to ask about the definition of convergence.
According to the Web site, convergence is 1) the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity; 2) the state or property of being convergent; or 3) the independent development of similar characters [as of bodily structure or cultural traits] often associated with similarity of habits or environment.
Well, wasn’t that useful? What do we all think is actually converging? Is television colliding with the Internet? Is direct marketing morphing with general brand advertising? Is the new economy emerging from the old economy, like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes? Or are all and none of these things happening?
Here are two examples of media convergence: With the installation of a tuner card in any PC with Windows 98 or WebTV and Intel’s Intercast or digital set-top cable boxes, many households can now customize their TV viewing experiences via “TV Homepages” that surround their TV screens with Internet-delivered information. Meanwhile, Internet computer products retailer Egghead.com Inc. has begun a year-long program of live TV and Web convergence advertising starting on ZDTV’s “Internet Tonight” program. The alliance creates one of the first partnerships of convergence advertising.
With all of the mainstream wisdom of TV and computers converging — and its impact on our daily lives — the issue seems not so much convergence per se, since each medium serves a vastly different set of audience objectives, but rather the impact that each will have on the other. Since I have an eclectic career that did not include either advertising or direct marketing until recently, I can offer an outsider’s perspective to the general discussion.
When you sit in front of your TV, your main purpose is relaxation and entertainment. It is an entirely passive experience. You expect to be entertained, and you tolerate commercial interruptions as the price for receiving all of that wonderful free programming. If you find the advertisements even mildly offensive, you flip channels, turn down the volume, grab a snack or answer the call of nature.
Let’s face it: Advertising is intrusive, but you’ve come to expect it. If the advertising is amusing, entertaining or informative, you may even enjoy it. However, no one searches for the 24-hour commercial channel. In addition to the passive nature of TV viewing, it also can be a solo or group experience.
When you sit in front of your computer, you intend to be active. You either search for information or exchange e-mails. The advertising that may bombard you through your computer is much more obtrusive than advertising on TV if you’re looking for particular information and the advertising is not relevant. And the fact is when you’re at your personal computer, it is primarily a solo event and not a spectator activity. After all, that’s why it’s called the “personal” computer.
Now, there is overlap. Web surfers are still getting in plenty of TV time. Cyber Dialogue found that more than 10.2 million adults, or 14 percent of the online population, have their TV sets turned on while they’re surfing the Web. This hasn’t altered the flood of Internet-related TV advertising.
According to Statistical Research, offline advertising is actually driving TV viewers online. The report, which surveyed 3,000 U.S. households, found 11 percent of surfers using the Web between 8 and 11 p.m. who said they visited a Web site that night as a result of TV advertising. Furthermore, 21 percent of respondents said they learned about the Web sites they visit from TV advertising.
However, don’t assume that the same ad placed on a site and TV will get its message to viewers. Ads are soon forgotten: A report by Active Research in San Francisco found that 25 percent of respondents couldn’t remember a single Internet-related commercial. The TV ads most remembered were those about Amazon.com and Yahoo, two of the Internet’s biggest brands.
“The trick [for advertisers] lies in engaging people in congruent media content,” said Cyber Dialogue analyst Idil Cakim. “An efficient media plan would send people from the screen to the Web or vice versa.”
Direct marketers are keenly aware of this distinction. Most ad agencies that make their living by creating, developing and supporting branded advertising for TV are rapidly learning this. Will these two worlds combine and become one overnight? I don’t think so.
The pundits who called for radio’s demise with the advent of TV also would be calling for the demise of branded advertising because of the convergence of TV and the Internet. Yet radio is experiencing its most rapid growth in decades, while viewership of the three major TV networks is eroding because of a variety of factors, including the fourth and fifth networks, cable TV, personal computers and video games.
So where does that leave us? Traditional TV advertising will not go the way of the woolly mammoth. Direct marketing on the Internet is in only its infancy. Each discipline has its advantages and disadvantages. And marketers must continue to develop and improve their approaches to each.
The notion of convergence, whereby both disciplines will be “moving toward union or uniformity,” won’t occur anytime soon. The real trick will be for each discipline to remain respectful of the other’s strengths and weaknesses and for advertising and direct marketing agencies to be true to their respective clients and deliver the best form of advertising based upon that channel of distribution.