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  • Tim Dyer

punching above your weight class — with media.

“The Medium is the message.” This is the famous phrase by the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan and the title of the very first chapter in his book, Understanding Media.

Nearly every week, clients ask us about which channels to use when communicating their Rally Cry campaign. Against the backdrop of a world obsessed with platforms—Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and the like—communication channels are more splintered and more confusing than ever before.

While OTT (over-the-top) advertising platforms have emerged as a new way to insert a brand into the viewing experience we all thought was killed forever by TiVo, the channels in which we choose to communicate matter far more than we once believed. Not just because they deliver a message within them, but the actual medium itself can say a lot about the brand and its level of perceived polish.

Years ago, we worked with a small preparatory school in Milwaukee’s lake country called University Lake School. We worked tirelessly on a limited budget to create their onlyness—the only Milwaukee prep school that serves as the foundation for a lifetime’s worth of brilliance. Preparing to launch this campaign internally and externally armed with a campaign aptly called, “Where Brilliance Begins,” we laid a strategy to make one billboard media purchase on the main highway closest to the school. They could only afford one. Despite the virtually nonexistent media spend, the stakeholder perception of parents, students, and the community was overwhelming. The proximity and communal sense that University Lake School had leveled up, and an assumption that there was a much larger media buy all over the Milwaukee area, garnered incredible feedback for the launch of this new communications platform.

This perception of assumed frequency is also backed by science. Enter the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It’s described as an illusion of frequency: that when you notice something entirely new to you, suddenly you feel like it’s everywhere, all the time. In fact, you can’t stop noticing it. You’re instantly aware of its presence anywhere and everywhere, and you may inflate its true presence with your perception that this object or entity is taking the world by storm. For me, this happens when I’m car shopping. Once I’ve locked in on a certain vehicle of interest, I can’t help seeing them on the road every time I check the rearview. And it’s almost maddening.

Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that the medium you use can actually change—and lift—the perception of the brand.

In a recent study by Thinkbox & house51, it was revealed that the use of television as a channel provides measurably significant more legitimacy to a brand, boasting a “2x brand patina” vs. online video sites depending on the metric. More proof that the channels you choose make a big difference to your audience when it comes to convincing them your brand is legitimate, successful, well known, popular, high-quality, financially strong, and trustworthy.

Subway leveraged this phenomenon to work around a massive Olympic sponsorship they didn’t have. Instead of buying national media as an Olympic sponsor, they bought local media on a national scale during the same Olympic commercial time blocks. For much less investment compared to the competition, they leveraged an innovative media strategy and a winning Olympic star (Michael Phelps) to carry the day. Instead of paying for USOC sponsorship, they had the star athlete of the Olympics as their spokesperson without ever actually saying the word, “Olympics,” but gained all the appearances of an official sponsorship—and all the glory, as well. It was relevant, it was resonant, and it was salient. And … it was also wildly controversial. But a little talkability is what brands need if they are to fight above their weight class.

While a lot of strategy—and science—goes into media planning, you can never discount ingenuity and intuition. What’s most important when launching your Rally Cry campaign is that you and your people believe in it. Whether that means you well with pride over a perceived national TV buy and sponsorship with the Olympics, or getting a little bit teary-eyed over a lone billboard on Hwy 16 in Hardland, Wisconsin, your brand’s ability to flex its perceived media muscle is limited only by your imagination.


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