I was invited to talk to some students from the Advertising Society at Oxford’s Wadham College recently. Students have had a bad press ever since the Young Ones (a show I doubt any of today’s crop have ever seen) and occasionally compound this by protesting, rioting and generally getting in the way while the rest of us are trying to do actual jobs.
But the financial crisis and subsequent changes to the higher education system mean going to university is fast becoming a privilege rather than a right, so it is good to meet some seriously bright students.
In a nod to this, I thought it only fair to let some of these bright young minds do the talking this week.
Charlotte Cupit was one of these, and she seized on one of my favourite topics – the rumours surrounding the death of newspapers. “We look to digital media for every other need; so why not news?” she asked. “On the face of it, this is a critical moment of newspapers. Their headlines repeat what the majority of the population heard yesterday on TV – or on Twitter seconds after it actually happened. They are out of date and they consume vast quantities of paper in a world where natural resources become more precious by the hour.”
She got me back on side by advocating more depth, more detail, more commentary and citing the successes enjoyed by titles like The Economist .
“Newspapers will survive if they focus on what they do best: editorials, comments and investigation,” she said.
Someone else who picked up on the fact The Economist circulates around 1.4 million copies per issue was Alex Harris. Rather than a ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ in the battle between the new and the old, between digital and print media, Alex pointed out the ‘experience’ of reading a magazine or newspaper is still deemed by many consumers to be preferable to gazing at a screen – especially in cultures where papers and magazines still confer a certain status on the reader.
“The rise of digital media does not mean printing presses must suddenly grind to a halt,” said Alex. “Where the content is strong, consumers will continue to buy both printed copies and online subscriptions – at least for now.”
So far so good, but how, I asked them, can newspapers who haven’t gone down the subscription route make any money online?
They can, but not through banners and popups, said Ivan Ryzkov, who added, “it’s about time somebody reinvented digital advertising.”
Ivan had read a recent report from YouGov which found two thirds of people in the US and UK feel they are “bombarded” with too many ads when surfing online.
The problem, said the knowledgeable Ivan, is that digital advertising is becoming more ineffective, with average response rates plummeting from 7 per cent in 1997 to about 0.1 per cent today.
“Digital marketing needs to change from the current ‘spray-and-pray’ approach to become more efficient,” he argued. “Ads should be more personal and contextually relevant, and they should make use of the internet’s inherent potential for interactivity to invent new formats that actively engage a user. This could drastically increase the response rates and improve the efficiency of ads.”
Not everyone in the industry will agree with these thoughts (and I’d be interested to hear whether they do). But you ignore the next generation of consumers at your peril – especially those who are probably going to end up in charge.