Watch Out for the Convergence Bandwagon

Everyone is talking about convergence. It's time to explain what convergence is, how it's been blown out of proportion and a simple way to take advantage of convergence for your products and services.

Internet lingo has turned the definition of “converge” to describe specific content sent out in two media, most often TV and the Web, so people will interact with both simultaneously. The thinking is that with increased content, there will be increased brand awareness, sales and customer loyalty via this union.

Television is in 99 percent of American homes and comprises 10 times the advertising budget of the Internet. It's also a proven advertising mechanism, while the Internet is still new and unknown. Since Internet numbers are starting to plateau a bit, these “Convergerites” are starting to think, “If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.” They hope that while you are watching television you will click away at an onslaught of information.

Keep dreaming. Pure convergence would mean a whole new medium. Did newspaper converge with radio? Did the radio converge with the TV? These other traditional media learned to compliment and support one another as they evolved, each relating news, information and entertainment that is often created, shared and even distributed by the same companies. Media overlap, but rarely converge. Specifically in advertising, the world of the multimedia ad campaign, with one medium repeating or enhancing another, has defined modern advertising. TV commercials advise viewers of newspaper coupons. Radio ads work with in-store promotions. For magazines, go no further than those prime-time live clearinghouse sweepstakes to see two media coming together.

The Internet and other media also will come together, but true convergence will always be hampered by technical and behavioral conditions that will slowly, if ever, change. With the Internet, these technical conditions include the absence of broadband in every living room, bedroom, office and car.

While there are some successes in production and participation in a few high profile events, convergence is a failure so far. Of course, there will be glaring examples with people using the Internet at the same time as their radios, newspapers or TVs, but as in the past, the use will be as a complement and rarely a simultaneous convergence for any great length of time.

What has worked, such as special information during super bowl games or involvement by viewers in game shows, has shown no sign of sponsorships, additional revenue or any impact on increased brand awareness. In fact, only the highest rated events have the draw to have marketing department even contemplate the additional costs required for all the bandwidth, content and programming required for such enhanced functionality.

Then there is the undeniable fact that I use my computer and watch my TV. I sit one foot from my computer screen and 12 feet from my television. I don't want to use my television and watch my computer. Most of us can barely get through the 200 satellite channels coming into our home. How many more new brands, services and products could we possibly retain?

While one may argue that people keep buying more channels, that only proves that more content is only economically viable from a subscription-based and not an advertiser supported model, which flies in the face of the 'all but free' economics of the Internet. In fact, these cable companies will provide more information from their own databanks and not that of the advertiser or related free Web site. One has to look no further than the merger of AOL and Time Warner to see that.

Convergence is about as good as it is ever going to get except for one major exception: the simultaneous broadcast of ads and gathering of consumer data. People will instantly be able to subscribe, participate and react from their homes. This interaction will be cheap to conduct, useful to the advertiser and accepted by the consumer with emerging security software coupled with the appropriate incentives.

So to take advantage of convergence between a traditional medium and the Internet, think of sending out content, but using the Web to gather back specific information on your customers as opposed to giving them even more entertainment. But don't try to change people's viewing habits, but instead use the best of both media to reach them.

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