Marshall McLuhan What Are You Doing?

Today is Marshall’s 100th birthday (or would have been if he hadn’t been knocked out by a stroke over 20 years ago).

So, why the big fuss?  What’s important about Marshall today?

John Donabie from Canada’s premier jazz station Jazz.FM91 wondered the same thing…so he interviewed me on-air (click here to listen).

First, full disclosure.  I studied for my Masters with McLuhan in 1972 because I wanted to understand media and perception better. It was an amazing year.

Here’s what I learned and here’s why he is still important today.

1. Media extend of our senses. TV extends the eye. Radio, the ear.  The internet extends both.

2. We are becoming more tribal (McLuhan said it in the 60s). The consequence is that we have less interest in what those outside our ‘tribe’ say and more interest in reinforcing our ‘belonging‘. The internet has put ‘tribalism’ on steroids.  This explains everything from the Tea Party ‘tribe’ to the Apple ‘tribe’.  It creates an environment in which very smart ‘generalists’ will prosper because they are the only ones who can provide true ‘context’.

3. We aren’t really aware of how deeply we are being changed because we are immersed in it.  As McLuhan said, “I don’t know who discovered water but I know it wasn’t a fish“.

4. We need touchstones to keep us focused. McLuhan keeps us focused on media, on technological change, on what it’s doing to us.

In an age when all the focus is on tech, on social networking (the ultimate world of tribes), and on what’s new, it’s nice to know that a man born 100 years ago has ideas that are still fresh today.

If you’ve never read The Gutenberg Galaxy or Understanding Media, you might want to buy yourself a birthday present to see how they hold up 50 years on.

Conversation is Messaging

The Cluetrain Manifesto is celebrating its 10th anniversary (that’s 100 years in Internet years). When it first burst on the scene, one chapter – Markets Are Conversations – jumped out with its bold insight about how to succeed online.

As I re-read the chapter recently, it reminded me that what is old is new again.

Written by Doc Searls and David Weinberger, its central thesis was “There is no demand for messages, there is a tremendous demand for good conversation”.

No demand for messages.  No demand for pop-up, rollover or takeover ads. No one waiting to hear from you.  Unless you are part of a “conversation”.

But now, online, a conversation is much more than words.

It’s more than Facebook and Twitter.  It’s TripAdvisor or a return email from tech support that helps solve your problem.  It’s searchable content and even smart, updated FAQs on your site.

Because 10 years after the Cluetrain manifesto, the internet has turned “conversations”  into actions, comments, site design, and, even corporate behavior. And, like all conversations, they only continue as long as they interesting and engaging.

Buying TV by Age & Gender Isn’t Effective

If you’ve been buying TV based on the age and gender of the audience, you might be wasting your money.

As CBS research guru David Poltrack said, ”There is no link, none, between the age of the specified demographic delivery of the campaign and the sales generated by that campaign.”

Setting the stage for a spirited debate, he suggests that advertisers focus on heavy users of their product instead.

A smart summary of his findings can be found in this article at Advertising Age.

The article identifies 6 consumer segments based on CBS-Neilsen research, specifically…

TV companions: For this group, TV is almost always on and is like a member of the family.

Media trendsetters: Early adopters of technology and new content, and also 39% multicultural.

Sports enthusiasts: Made up mostly of men, but most guys aren’t classified here. This group also likes action-adventure programming.

Program passionates: Highly involved with favorite shows, and the biggest DVR time-shifters.

Surfers and streamers: Most open to watching alternative content on TV and most often using laptops or tablets to multitask while watching TV. They skew young, but include a large component of 50-plus people.

TV moderators: Those who enjoy being experts and leading others’ choices.

Now, the question is – do these segments only help CBS or is there something of value for others who use TV for advertising?

Making Money From ‘Context’

Magazines are finding new markets by chopping up their stories and issuing  them as mini e-books.  And, they are making money from it.

They are learning that people no longer want more facts about the news – they are  already overwhelmed by information from TV, radio, blogs, tweets and the internet.

Instead, people look for understanding, for someone to make sense of events for them.  In other words, they are looking for ‘context’.

This has provided a new revenue stream for magazines that republish their ‘contexting’ of events as e-books – same material broken into smaller sections and marketed on line.

And, they are making money from it.

Marketing Vox gives the example of Mother Jones magazine, whose , “online traffic and ad revenues received a significant boost in February due in large part to its ‘Explainer’ articles on events in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Wisconsin”.

This helped Mother Jones increase its unique visitors by an astonishing 420%.

Now, Foreign Policy Magazine is repurposing their explanation of the Egyptian uprising as a “mini e-book”. Their first e-book about Northern Afghanistan already sold 5000 copies at $2.99 each.

This is a trend to watch.

More about magazine e-books at

And, more about the importance of context at


600,000 Twitter Impressions and Only 10 Clicks

This is a cautionary tale on the do’s and don’ts of social media…

A top blogger (Tom Webster) got his Twitter message out with a reach of more  than  600,000 people on Twitter – using social networking friends who are in the  top 10-20% of influencers to help him.

He was looking for something that seemed simple … asking people to record a short message of hope for the people who were devastated by the recent NZ earthquake.

He worked his network hard.  And carefully tracked and quantified the results.

Results after 600,000+ impressions …

389 clicks.  And only 10 messages of hope.

Tom asked his friend, Matt Ridings, who runs ‘influencer’ campaigns what went wrong. Here’s what he learned …

‘My dear friend Matt Ridings (you might have seen him as Techguerilla on the Twitters) has more tangible experience running online influencer campaigns than anyone I know – he’s super sharp, practical, and frankly brilliant about making these things actually work both for brands and for the people these brands hope to reach.

He assures me that the real problem was that I didn’t design the effort well enough.

Instead, he notes that “people need to…

a) see that the influencer took the action (the influencer truly believes)

b) be presented with an action simple enough for them to easily participate and allow competition to take hold (“I can make a better audio clip than you did,”) and

c) see results made public to allow a) & b) to occur in such a way that they believe the influencer will actually see that they did it for *them* vs. the cause, thus garnering attention for themselves.”

In other words, I didn’t “gamify” the effort in a way that would bring influence, notoriety or some other tangible benefits to the participants. I banked too heavily on altruism, and didn’t provide an opportunity for participants to increase their own online clout’.

Harvard Business School on Groupon

If you are using coupons (or Groupon) to build traffic, here’s some news from  Harvard’s Business School.

They say that ‘discount vouchers are likely to be most effective for businesses that  are relatively unknown and have low marginal costs’.

In other words, Groupon isn’t likely to help a company that people already  know, like The Gap, where the cost of goods (jeans, jackets, etc.) is high.

Discounts may generate awareness and traffic.  So, if you run a deli and aren’t well known, a company like Groupon might help.

To put Groupon in perspective – at Media Fix, for years, we have seen coupons for moms on every ‘mom-focused’ website – often for products with low marginal costs, such as diapers or snack foods.

More here

Rupert Murdoch and the iPad Experiment

Media Mogul, Rupert Murdoch, doesn’t want to miss the revolution again – he already stumbled with MySpace.

So, this time, he’s partnering with Steve Jobs at Apple in a risky, innovative iPad publishing move with his new ‘newspaper’,  The Daily  (if ‘paper’ is an apt word in the digital age).

And, this experiment is very different from Murdoch’s traditional businesses. For example, advertisers in the launch are paying a flat fee instead of a cost-per-thousand. And, there are no estimates of potential audience size.

It will be a very costly experiment whether it works or fails.

And, there are some real stumbling blocks.  First, it will be very challenging to provide content that is so different from that already available on the web that people will pay 99 cents a day for it.  Second, its content won’t be easily searchable – which means Murdoch will have to rely on word-of-mouth without easy links.

Let’s watch this closely.  Very few ‘new’ businesses succeed based on their expectations. If they succeed, it’s usually in an unexpected way. More at…