Point of View: People as media

Joe Mandese

Lately I have begun to think that advertisers and agencies have become consumed by what industry wonks would refer to as ‘unpaid media'. In the old days, that meant public relations. These days, it usually means social media, which has rapidly supplanted – or possibly re-energised – PR in the marketing mix. It's also transforming the way traditional ad agencies think of themselves, their role, and what they can do to influence the conversation for their clients’ brands.

I'm sensing a great deal of excitement and opportunism, but I've also begun to detect a fair amount of angst that the mix of services that agencies have offered in the past are no longer relevant in an age where the biggest medium are consumers themselves.

In fact, the consumer was always the most important medium and the ultimate arbiter of a brand message, regardless of the medium it is being transmitted by. There has been ample research to prove this over the history of advertising, but certainly during the past decade as a better understanding of neuroscience and memory have come to the fore. In the US, the concept was embraced by the Advertising Research Foundation, and especially by former ARF research chief Joe Plummer, who dubbed the concept ‘co-authoring'. In Plummer's view, consumers’ brains – including all the stored impression and malleable memories they hold in them -have been the most important medium.