Medium vs Message: Don’t Take a Shot in the Dark

Blog cover image with target on wall and arrows around it, but not on the target.

Advertising success, how do we do it? We’ve talked about consistency and crossing the threshold of effectiveness to get the best return on your investment.  But those thoughts were mainly about the medium and not about the message. We know that getting ROI and the most bang for your buck takes a researched and well-thought-out media plan. But just like a blank DVD, the medium is useless without the message.

Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”, but we disagree. One thing is certain:  there are some messages out there that are just bad. The fact that you tune them out everyday on the radio, ignore them every morning on the news, or skim over them in the paper every week does not make them effective.

In fact, that paid media may be doing more damage than good for the brand. The brand may be remembered, but for the wrong all reasons.

And that’s where we must close the circle for our clients. We could be the best media strategists and planners in the business (and maybe we are…) but if the message isn’t noticed and doesn’t strike a cord to connect with the audience, we’ve failed and the investment is wasted.

Master Lock provides the most famous example of a message perfectly matched to its medium and succeeding beyond all expectations. The original TV spot, featuring a padlock getting shot by a high-powered rifle and still staying locked, first aired on the Super Bowl in 1974, and it was a big gamble, using almost all of Master Lock’s annual advertising budget. But, no pun intended, it was a huge hit with a ton of free publicity to go along with it. Master Lock continued with this tactic of spending it’s annual budget in one place for the next 20 years and annual sales jumped from $35 million to $200 million.

That’s why advertising can’t just be a shot in the dark. The message must be well-crafted to fit the medium. It must be strategically mastered to fit your goals. Otherwise you won’t lock down any ROI, just a few shots fired and a target missed.