“Ad-supported content is a business model in decay”

All Eyes Up Front

Networks shun stages

As readers of this blog know, we’re not big fans of advertorials like SustainabiliTEA — a co-production of Lipton Tea and National Geographic. But just in case you think we’re being unfairly critical of a business strategy that certainly will generate some quick cash for our Society, we offer some additional insight from Terry Heaton of Audience Research & Development.

In a post called Protecting the Stage, he writes about the death of ad-supported content and why online networks are not a good spot for advertisers.

The owner of the stage can set the rules for the performers on the stage, but when nobody sees the stage, those rules can become a net liability. … The stage is what matters to traditional media. It’s the driver of its pursuit of impartiality. An impartial stage, after all, is home to others, including advertisers, and this is no accident. The purity of the stage for advertisers is a vital concern to the people who shell out millions of dollars to be associated with it. ….[But] the essence of the network is to shun stages, not so much for the acts they bring but for all the marketing messages that tag along. This is — and will be — the essential problem for media, for ad-supported content is a business model in decay.

The “purity of the stage” — that is, the “impartiality” of National Geographic — is not only what Lipton is buying, but it’s also what’s compromised by this ad campaign. Once you grasp the rules of this new game, and read the fine print (“Special presentation brought to you by Lipton”), everything else our Society produces suddenly deserves special scrutiny: Where’s the fine print for this story or TV show? Is this a “special presentation”? an “advertorial”? some other newfangled hybrid? Who exactly is speaking to me?

But here’s the good news: National Geographic isn’t a media company. We don’t have to play by the same rules as, say, The New York Times, or TIME magazine, or the Discovery Channel. Why? Because we’re a Society with more than four million dues-paying members… right?

__________

≡  graphic via Terry Heaton’s blog

  • Pingback: You No Longer Control The Message | Society Matters()

  • Carto Joe

    Take away The Magazine and you will have zero dues-paying members. I think there are few people who view the membership aspect as being of value anymore. I’m not smart enough to know whether this was inevitable, or whether the membership concept can be revived. But it’s clear that today NG sells magazines, not memberships. The voucher packets that millions receive each year are the same format as the ones they get from Time and other magazines. Membership is just one of the “value adds” that are listed on the voucher along with the world map premium. Also, I don’t think it’s the norm for organizations whose primary focus is membership to offer cut rates to get you on board. I wonder if they’ve tested mailings that primarily promote membership, with the sales pitch being about the mission, with the key member benefit being The Magazine (and perhaps value adds like e-newsletters for members only?)?

    • CJ: I agree: No Magazine, no dues-paying members. And not that many people think of themselves as members anymore. But I think it’s reasonable to ask if they stopped feeling like members because the people who run NGS stopped treating them like members.

      If you run a retail operation, you can talk to people like they’re customers. But if you run a Society, you’re not selling products as much as articulating a message — about who we are, what defines the group, what the glue is that provides the cohesion and collective identity. I’ve tried to argue that the glue was once a national, and Western, and civilizational one. That in many ways NGS has always been a political organization. NGS is just four blocks from the White House, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

      In the end, discounts on magazines, or special member-only e-newsletters will not do the trick. Instead, what’s needed is someone who can lead the institution in an Obama-esque way — and I’m not talking about policy. I’m talking about the ability to talk to people not as customers who might buy your product, but as citizens who share your national destiny. To address people as companions on a historic journey. Unlock that message, and find the person who can deliver it & mobilize the current members, and I think NGS still has a fighting chance as a membership organization.

      Thanks for writing, Carto Joe.

  • Carto Joe

    Take away The Magazine and you will have zero dues-paying members. I think there are few people who view the membership aspect as being of value anymore. I’m not smart enough to know whether this was inevitable, or whether the membership concept can be revived. But it’s clear that today NG sells magazines, not memberships. The voucher packets that millions receive each year are the same format as the ones they get from Time and other magazines. Membership is just one of the “value adds” that are listed on the voucher along with the world map premium. Also, I don’t think it’s the norm for organizations whose primary focus is membership to offer cut rates to get you on board. I wonder if they’ve tested mailings that primarily promote membership, with the sales pitch being about the mission, with the key member benefit being The Magazine (and perhaps value adds like e-newsletters for members only?)?

    • CJ: I agree: No Magazine, no dues-paying members. And not that many people think of themselves as members anymore. But I think it’s reasonable to ask if they stopped feeling like members because the people who run NGS stopped treating them like members.

      If you run a retail operation, you can talk to people like they’re customers. But if you run a Society, you’re not selling products as much as articulating a message — about who we are, what defines the group, what the glue is that provides the cohesion and collective identity. I’ve tried to argue that the glue was once a national, and Western, and civilizational one. That in many ways NGS has always been a political organization. NGS is just four blocks from the White House, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

      In the end, discounts on magazines, or special member-only e-newsletters will not do the trick. Instead, what’s needed is someone who can lead the institution in an Obama-esque way — and I’m not talking about policy. I’m talking about the ability to talk to people not as customers who might buy your product, but as citizens who share your national destiny. To address people as companions on a historic journey. Unlock that message, and find the person who can deliver it & mobilize the current members, and I think NGS still has a fighting chance as a membership organization.

      Thanks for writing, Carto Joe.

  • Pingback: Using social tools for (mostly) solitary ends | Society Matters()

  • Pingback: RIP: Society Matters (2009-2014) | Society Matters()

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.