Marshall McLuhan, who was born 100 years ago today (July 21, 1911), authored “the medium is the message” in 1964. He explained that the nature of media influences how messages are received without receivers realizing it. For example, motion pictures require less interpretation by viewers than radio.

Digital marketing validates the same point in a completely new way. Current day technologies spawned by the internet allow messages to be fleeting, even expendable, as media platforms test and refine them.

Industry observers estimate digital-out-of-home to be roughly where the internet was in the mid-90s. As DOOH media evolve to be more characterized by “digital” than “out-of-home,” are we equipped to let the medium drive the message?

The golden age of messages

The 1960s, the era of McLuhan’s writing, was a pre-clutter age. Good copy could break through because channels were not yet saturated with noise and consumers were not encumbered with tuning out annoyances.

Traditional marketing anointed messages as king. Magazine ads are a perfect example. Text-rich pages catered to a patient readership. Copy was conversational, emotion won over promotion, and benefits won over features. Virginia Slims weren’t thinner cigarettes, they were womens’ liberation embodied.

In this decade, ads faced expensive, long lead production.  But once the unique selling proposition was expressed in memorable creative, magic happened. Brands built markets and markets drew masses of consumers willing to conform.

Net-net, message was marketing. Advertisers could afford heavy up front creative investment because the output worked.  Testing was tolerated up front, but the agencies with the “big idea” had the final say and campaigns were let loose to run their life cycle.
The digital age of media

The age that began in the 90s and continues today has been called the “unbundled” era the “cyber” era and the  “audience” era. The biggest change brought on by digital media has been time compression. Both the creative cycle and the feedback loop can now be instant.

Pepsico head of digital for beverages, Shiv Singh, said “we have to go from strategy to execution not in months, but in a matter of seconds.”

Access to customer data makes instant personalization possible. Retailers have a special ability to identify customer needs and deliver relevant offers, both through digital channels and direct from store associates.

Digital  marketing has anointed the medium as king. Marketers can diversify their investment in messages rather than being forced to make big bets. This has yielded a law-like pattern:routine messages channeled intelligently beat intelligent messages channeled routinely.  

In fact, marketers like Harry Gold of Overdrive challenge planners to abandon the campaign altogether and embrace the channel.  Campaigns have points of no return, they either work or they don’t. Channels go on forever, they can be measured, evolved and improved.

The meaning for DOOH

Singh points out that TV distribution has a long way to go before it can meet the real-time demands. On the other hand, instant distribution (wireless, IPTV, etc.) and instant feedback (mobile engagement, sales response) means DOOH is ready for real-time—if shopper intelligent systems are in place.

While medium thinking is embedded in online and mobile, it is just emerging in DOOH. Once you have twin capabilities of instant transmission and instant feedback, you enable dynamic content optimization.

DS-IQ has achieved 30-40%+ gains in sales lift from dynamic optimization. Advertisers are able to activate (and even suspend) messages on a store level based on pre-programmed conditions ranging from in-market to in-store. How DS-IQ is unlocking the power of medium in DOOH:

  1. A keen understanding of audience mindsets. DS-IQ plans in-store and near-store screen locations based on a knowledge of shopping trip anatomy. The simplicity of messages presented during the half a minute a shopper is at the front of the store contrasts with the depth of content during the 2-3 minutes a shopper views  the HD TV wall.
  2. Moving beyond measurement to optimization. Flights are targeted before they begin based on store, consumption and market factors. Advertisers can adjust them mid-campaign by employing weather triggers (heat waves, cold snaps), seasonal conditions (pollen), inventory triggers (in-stock, low stock) and even sales-conditions
  3. Integrating with multi-channel marketing. This comprises traditional and digital forms. Integration includes synchronizing with retail calendars/merchandising, moving cross-media to mobile and online platforms, and extending broadcast campaigns to DOOH)

When advertisers adopt ‘medium” thinking, DOOH generates higher returns for less risk. DS-IQ is expanding a base of best investment practices through the analysis of thousands of campaigns executed through diverse media assets.

McLuhan coined the “global village” and envisioned the World Wide Web almost 30 years before it existed. He wouldn’t recognize marketing today. But his predictions about the reign of medium over message have never been truer than today’s digital era.

Categories: Analytics, In-store, Online | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Post navigation


  1. VictorM

    Amen. Somewhere from on high Marshall McLuhan is gazing down on us, smiling. He was right.

    Meanwhile, others like Harry Gold of Overdrive challenge us to abandon campaigns (i.e. messages) in favor of channels. Perhaps a bit rash for traditional media, but good counsel for the digital world

  2. ICU812

    Nice pic. Marshall McL + Virginia Slims, baby!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: