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Thursday, November 22, 2001

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The Net as a new mass medium

Ranjyoti Barooah

A number of us in the Internet industry are wondering `what next?' Of course there are opinions; names such as Internet-2, meganet and so on are beginning to do the rounds. Each assumes widespread access to broadband connectivity and an eclectic combination (convergence?) of applications / usage. As of now it certainly seems that Ries was right when he pointed out the distinction between the technologically feasible and the emotionally acceptable. People aren't going to check their e-mail through TV sets any more than they will surf using the microwave.

However, each will use the digital media in the context of its utilisation, for example, downloading a movie of their choice from any library in the world using broadband Internet access.

So, we are seeing the Internet, in some form, getting entrenched within contexts other than PC's. This is going to lead to a world of opportunities. In my specific area of interest i.e. using the Net for brand related applications, I believe we are seeing a fundamental shift. A wide range of digital applications is opening up. From SMS to multi-purpose kiosks (including ATMs) we are seeing the emergence of a new mass medium.

In terms of general acceptance, I believe the growth of the applications on the Net will mirror the growth of computer applications some decades ago. Remember a time when computers were largely valued for their ability to perform vast numbers of logical operations in a nanosecond of time?

This particular aspect of the computer lent itself readily to mathematical applications. Hence, some of the first commercial applications of computers were in fields like accounting and finance. Over time, familiarity and other developments led people to ask basic questions like `what if computers could...' or even `why can't we use computers to...'. Like one of the Tai Chi symbols of the snake feeding on its tail, this led to an explosion of needs, applications, modifications and so on.

Today, we cannot visualise most areas of organised activity without automation, computing and data processing.

Let's consider Internet-based marketing communication. In the initial attempt to display a superiority over traditional media vehicles we tom-tommed the measurability or accountability of the Net. Gradually, people started hearing of things like `low' effectiveness of banners. The two taken together led to a certain cooling in the usage of the Internet for brand communication.

The cost-per-contact kind of paradigm is best understood in the response communication business i.e. buy now, special offer kind of communication. Globally this has been the bulk of the kind of messages being sent through the Internet. So, a new kind of load allocation happened with traditional media doing most of the theme advertising (as well as response advertising) and the Internet being used largely for response or promotional kind of communication.

Globally we are now seeing a shift. As traditional media managers rationalise use of time (30'' Vs 15'') and space (in print), they are turning to a medium where time and space are simply not constraints.

On the Internet, an individual can be guided to interact with a brand at various levels (as against the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional media). Globally, and increasingly in India, we are seeing Net-based initiatives taking a longer-term brand perspective rather than the immediacy of response based communication.


Click here for Chart

So, while measurability remains a benefit of the medium, it is no longer a restraining factor. We expect to see a qualitative shift in the nature of brand communication through the Net from a short-term, promo-based model to a wider, theme-based format. Coupled with the exponential reach of the Internet in the next few years, we are seeing the emergence of a new medium for brand communication, which, over time will challenge the defenders of the traditional media. When that will happen is anybody's guess.

However, in the last six months, I have seen most marketing departments recruiting an `Internet guy'; in the next 6-8 months I expect the annual media plans to have an added row ... The Internet.

(The author is CEO of brandquiver.com. Feedback can be e-mailed to bleditor@thehindu.co.in)

 
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