The Media Neutral Idea

The medium is the message.

I never understood this message, by the way.
Lately I had a discussion with another planner about the notion of media neutrality. And like almost every planner he advocated media neutrality - or channel neutrality. Media neutrality is a concept opposite to McLuhan's provocative statement and simply says that an idea is independent of the media in which it gets placed.
How else could planners go from market conditions and consumer sentiment to a communications idea? A good idea is media neutral, they say. That's what I think most of the time, too. Simply because we would go insane if we had to come up with different ideas for different channels.

But sometimes I wonder... how neutral can it be?

Let's remember how it is to come up with a creative planning idea. When evaluating that idea we start assessing if the idea works well in execution. Actually we can not even think of an idea without having its executional potential in mind. (At least if you're working in an agency that sells communication and not brand consulting or research.) So idea generation is influenced by our intuition of it's executional potential. And an exectution is by no means channel neutral, is it. So depending on which kind of execution channel you have at the background of your mind you will probably come up with different kinds of ideas. Can we really make our brain think media neutrally?

It's at least not easy. Even the basic principles of idea formulation that serve best print and TV ads don't apply well to e.g. building a user community or running a PR campaign. Communities revolve around designing interaction, PR around engaging opinion shapers in stories to be spread, ads revolve around single-minded MESSAGES. Single-mindednes makes not much sense in good dialogues, human relations & real story telling. What does that mean for the formulation of ideas?

I think that all over the world lots of planners started to technically think and write in a different way. Ideas become more broad and less about messages, thus aiming for inspiriation across channels. But still - is real media neutrality feasible? And is it always the very best solution? Could it be better to have one idea for some channels and for others to have another idea that is "not too far away"? (It will happen like this anyway, you know:-)

No idea works equally splendid in all channels. What we all do, we have an assumption about where an idea will "have to go" and if it seems to work well in those channels, we give it a go. That's fair enough. Noone needs all channels. Noone pays for all channels. Noone would simply drop a great idea just because it works less breathtakingly in - let's say - sponsoring or community buliding. You just invent something in addition (like e.g. apps are often on-offs, viral clips are almost always one-offs).

"It depends on the idea" is one of the most used sentences we hear when it comes to media. If it does depend on the idea, than the idea can't be that neutral. The media agency usually wants to know the idea before media planning! If ideas were truly neutral they would not have to know.

The other extreme position - equaly non-neutral and radically McLuhanist - is that of a channel planner. As far as I understand, they even think of an idea starting from what is, should and can be done in the mediascape. So no thinking without meida in mind.
= No media neutrality in thinking!

On the other hand, there are ideas that are very broad and really fit in almost all the channels. But they often are rather frameworks for idea genration still to come. Is this what they mean when saying "territory"? Do we rather need to develop two levels of ideas from now on?

To sum up: The holiness of media neutrality can at least be challenged. But it's of course a very helpful notion to challenge the way classical ad agencies think!

I'm more confused than before writing this. But that's how those things are: mighty fuzzy and confusing. One sentence you write is just a sentence, and another one - almost the same one - suddenly is an idea. It's more than confusing, it's magic!

If we all were more honest in admitting that often enough we don't know for sure what those big words - "idea", "territory" etc. - technically mean and how they are "built"... if we all were more honest and would start talking about it in public - maybe then our whole guild would make a step further and become a true profession.

At least in that conversation I noticed that it's impossible to develop a better understanding if both try to appear as "planners". I.e. as persons who know it all - because they are so clever.

Let's stop being clever!

Be stupid!

(That's Diesel's latest idea. it's sort of media neutral isn't it? :-)