By Paul Woolmington
If “the medium is the message” was one of the most radical concepts of the 20th century, then a compelling question for the 21st century is this: What can now be defined as a medium?
Marshall McLuhan’s famous theory, of course, is that the medium itself, not the content it carries, is what really matters because the medium (e.g. television) is what shapes and defines a culture.
And so we tend to think of media as the medium. McLuhan, however, had a much broader definition. He argued that any extension of ourselves could be considered a medium. He explained that holding a hammer extends our arms, for example, enabling us to do more than our simple bodies could do on their own.
In the spirit of redefining McLuhan’s theory, I would argue that the 21st century version of this extension could be technology that empowers—think Waze, Uber and Venmo. All new tech that solves problems with ease. And it doesn’t end with apps. I would expand the term to include augmented reality, chatbots and even delivery.
Empowering technology: the new frontier
In line with McLuhan’s theory, the news of Google’s Drone delivery company, Wing, being approved as an airline by the Federal Aviation Authority drives home the notion that empowering technology is also a medium for communication.
In this case, Wing’s delivery tactics are communicating that Google connects communities. And suddenly, this medium for delivery also becomes a medium for the message. No matter how much we innovate, some things never change.
As a subset of empowering technology, delivery is no longer just a problem for our partners in the mailroom to solve. For us right-brained creatives, delivery becomes an opportunity to use our creativity in favor of groundbreaking solutions.
Furthermore, Amazon recently announced free one-day shipping, quickly followed by a hint from Walmart that it would look to do the same. Following this blitz, RBC Capital noted, “The faster you ship, the more people buy.
Make no mistake. We are entering an arms race that will be won, not by the power of the bomb, but how fast it lands on the target. Delivery is a medium marketers must explore.
The idea becomes the message
It may be uncomfortable to think about how to leverage technology in service of something as traditional as delivery. After all, it’s not a blank slate like a billboard or a 30-second spot. And yet, this avenue for getting your product into the hands of customers is an opportunity to surprise, delight and get people talking. All with the added benefit that the idea becomes the message. The best marketers are then using traditional media to scale it.
This kind of fresh thinking was certainly applied when Domino’s Pizza enabled customers to place orders by simply tweeting an emoji of a pizza slice. And, in 2016, Domino’s delivered its first pizza via drone to a couple in New Zealand. These ingenious moves positioned this old-school delivery company to become a new-wave tech company.
So, what next?
The pace of innovation is dizzying. No one expects the landscape five years from now to even remotely resemble the one we are living in today. In order to keep up, we need to keep redefining what we mean by medium. Marketers must get out of their lane and start creating ingenious solutions to everyday pain points. It is time to get radically creative.
As traditional and innovative media (and mediums) continue to blend, “problem solving” has become the newest creative canvas. Creating solutions is now a medium that promises to redefine media. This will ultimately shape and define the culture of 21st century marketing.
Now is the time to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to get comfortably ahead. Hustle is compulsory. The on-demand generation doesn’t have the patience to just be advertised to. Instead, they require innovative solutions that empower their lives. Let the drone become the message and suddenly your problem-solving skills will do the advertising for you.
Paul Woolmington is CEO of Canvas Worldwide, a media and communications agency.
This article was published in collaboration with Adage.com