Reading Review: Koster and Greenberger

This week’s readings really made me think about the “broad” in “broadcasting.” As Koster points out in “Long-Tail Nanotargeting,” it used to be that the best way to campaign was to make as universal a message as possible, succinctly emphasizing one candidate’s best attributes and another candidate’s worst attributes in a “one-size-fits-all” hook that can transcend demographics. But as I learned from the readings, this model of message-building is outdated–as outdated as the notion that only “broke and hopeless” campaigns bother experimenting, thinking outside the box, abandoning the “same old fight” of trying to think up a singular persuasive angle. The way of the future–or, more accurately, the present–is “nanotargeting.” When campaigns nanotarget, they do not pore over developing a single message that can appeal to everybody. Instead, they narrowcast or tailor-make different messages for different groups of people. Rather than hurl one big net over all constituents, nanotargeting campaigns persuade niches to support the issue or movement or candidate by speaking specifically to special interests.

A recurring theme in the readings is the high return of investment provided by nanotargeting, both as a general practice and as pertains specifically to digital ads. While all ads are “targeted” at someone, traditional media still generally tries to advertise to as broad a range of people as possible. This is because the thought process for decades has been the reverse of the new media thought process–that since ads cost time, money and brain power, it would be more efficient to pour those resources into devising a catch-all message. Perhaps this reasoning made sense at one point, but I think–as the authors suggest–that modern society has crossed a technological threshold that demands disparate audiences be catered to in more specific ways. The general public that could once be dictated to one-dimensionally is now not only more “fractured” (Koster’s term) than ever, but also more aware of their being fractured than ever. To overcome these differences, nanotargeting attempts to make each individual group feel important. And, as each individual group begins to trust and hype the campaign more, the campaign becomes bigger and stronger. What once seemed like too much work now seems like the most efficient and effective strategy.

The special attention that niches feel from nanotargeted ads is somewhat of an illusion or game, as CNN’s pressurized handling of the Lou Dobbs situation illustrates–the network only caved because Koster’s campaign tricked it into thinking the campaign was a big deal, at which point no matter what move CNN made, airing or not airing news on the campaign, the campaign won because it had gotten publicity. “Source amnesia” also capitalizes on the “no publicity is bad publicity” mantra, as ads can throw out words and images that build mythologies, true or not (often not), in people’s minds. Digital ads can be especially sneaky, advertising content that appears on external websites, which makes people (falsely) believe they are not being peddled the issue or candidate but the website itself. Trickeration aside though, nanotargeting works. As Greenberger points out, while an infertility awareness campaign showed no rise in audience awareness after a traditional media blitz, a less expensive digital campaign that put special ads on infertility and women’s health websites showed progress.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Internet and nanotargeting have emerged together–whereas media of old, e.g. radio, television, newspapers, etc., were all one-dimensional, giving messages but not really promoting or enabling a way for people to spread it themselves, to fan the flame, the World Wide Web is so three-dimensional that memes and word of mouth (or, keyboard) cause ripple effects that make digital ads worth so much more than what’s invested to make them. For the same reason that Sarah Palin’s brand may be unsalvageable, Mike Gravel became a blank-staring, rock-throwing folk hero. The Internet’s three-dimensionality makes it easy for the fractured modern audience, not won over in sections by traditional media, to promote or destroy a campaign all by itself. Once traditional media notices–say, CNN, for example–the game has been won.

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