by Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) Words are funny things which, over time, seem to have a life of their own. When you realise that, back in the 1300s, the word “awful” meant “inspiring wonder”, “nice” was a way of describing someone as silly, while “silly” actually meant one was worthy, it becomes clear that words really do evolve their meanings over time.

The word “media”, rather than changing in meaning, seems to have narrowed in definition. Its current meaning is “any means of communication that reach or influence people widely”. Most journalists would embrace that but, if you work in a media agency in the advertising world, it would be met with fearful eyes as it describes a world far outside of the comfort zone of paid media.

3D Color Bar Television Man Reading A Newspaper by Boians Cho Joo Young courtesy of
Image by Boians Cho Joo Young courtesy of

Showing the shift

I, like many others, have developed killer slides which show the shift from broadcast media to engagement platforms. I’ve even been more proud of coming up with quotes such as “brands have moved from the dictatorship of broadcast to the democracy of sharing”.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out that the original meaning of the word broadcast was “sowing seeds with the sweeping moving of the hand”. What better metaphor to describe the potential engagement and sprouting of deep-rooted brand love?

In the marketing world, words are the currency of credibility — and, rather bizarrely, the less they are understood, the more nodding heads there are in a room. Also, most people feel defined by their understanding of the words they use and this translates into their behaviour.

Paid-media vs consumer touch points

If you work in a media agency, you will need paid-media skills and every recommendation will have a paid-media solution. The term “media agency” defines that and the business model backs it up.

But the consumer is touching the brand in a myriad of different ways. (Side point: the word “myriad” used to mean exactly 10 000 — now it just means a whole lot!) Some touch points are placed, at great expense, in the consumer’s line of sight, but more and more are discovered by the consumers in places where the brand has little control of when and where.

Let’s go back to basics and liberate ourselves from the words we use. If you are developing communication for a brand, you are:

  1. Making tangible stuff that people can see, hear (and, yes, sometimes smell)
  2. Making sure that the consumer you are after is most likely to see, hear (and maybe smell) that stuff

What to do

If you work in a media agency, you need to be able to do b). You also need to understand fully the purpose of a).

Why is this scary for media people? Because a recommendation on how to solve a client’s business problem should include, with full justification, why changing a store front window would lead to higher sales than a radio campaign. Or why a high-engagement series of brand-owned events would more effectively result in required leads than a TV campaign. Or why the expense of a full page Sunday Times ad would increase basket size right now, compared to a low-cost social media campaign involving a potentially highly shareable piece of video content.

This is all absolutely what clients need. But media agencies don’t want to think outside of media. They run a mile from anything that involves a discussion around messaging. And they seem disinterested in how their plans are linked to real business metrics.


Give it a name if you want — I rather like “content optimisation” — but don’t be hung up on it, as it may end up defining and limiting what you do in the future. Just like the word media is doing right now.


Martin MacGregorMartin MacGregor (@MartMacG) is managing director of Connect, an M&C Saatchi Company, with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Martin has spent 18 years in the industry, and has previously worked at Ogilvy and was MD of MEC Nota Bene in Cape Town. He contributes the monthly “Media Redefined” column, in which he challenges norms in the media space, to



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