Please can we kill the media-neutral idea?

There are a number of words I hate.

‘Special’ is one.  As in ‘it was such a special time’. Or the even more kidney-punchingly awful ‘he’s a very special person’.  (It always puts me in mind of the ‘Special Olympics’. Not, as I imagine it, a gathering of inspiring individuals who achieve remarkable athletic feats despite considerable physical handicap, but instead a series of events in which insipid, conspicuously-lovely people, compete to see who can lend the most compassionate ear, or arrange the most fetching bunch of flowers from a selection they’ve picked themselves, or (and this is the 100m of the Special Olympics) the event in which people take an elderly person they’re not even related to for an outing to the park on a sunny afternoon. Now that’s special.)

I now add to this list ‘media-neutral’.  Not a word, I acknowledge, but a concept I hate. I can’t bear the phrase and its spectacular overuse (I also hate its intellectual, been-to-university cousin, ‘media-agnostic’).  I really dislike the convenience of it, in that it describes an idea that can be applied equally well (or badly) across all media.  You might as well call ideas media-ambivalent and be done with it.

I propose it be replaced, first as a phrase, but more importantly as a concept.

We don’t need media-neutral ideas. We need ideas that are brilliant because of their application through individual media, not independently of those media. Our goal should be media that makes the idea better, and ideas that make the media better. That’s the exact opposite of neutral.

Neutrality’s not a positive concept. It’s the absence of an opinion, sitting on the fence and having a dollar each way.  That’s no state for an idea to be in.

I want enthusiasm, commitment, a stake in the ground and a flag run up a pole. I want an idea that wants to be something and a media that helps it do it.

The idea of media-neutrality just reinforces the artificial and unhealthy separation of idea and application.  We’ve grappled with this for years and need to acknowledge, again, that the two must be inextricably linked.  An idea only has value when it’s brought to life through media, and it’s got that much more value when the media is central to the idea.  It’s the convenient, artificial distinction between the two that annoys me so much about media-neutrality.

Ideas aren’t media-neutral in the same way that clothes aren’t people-neutral. Ideas become brilliant when brought to life in the right way through the right media on the right occasion.  Clothes become brilliant when worn in the right way by the right people on the right occasion.  But clothes don’t get designed neutrally.  They get designed with people and occasions central to the design process because that’s how they will get worn, just as ideas should be developed with media central to the creative process because that’s how they get consumed.  The idea just can’t be neutral.

So I propose a change.

Let’s move on from the negative start-point.  Neutrality takes what is potentially a great idea and drags it down with ambivalence. How much better to talk about an idea that’s media-positive? Or better yet, an idea that’s media-exuberant? Doesn’t that do a better job of describing an idea that is going to be made brilliant by its smart application through media? And not just any media, but very specific media that sit at the heart of the idea itself.

I want never again to describe an idea as media-neutral. In fact I want never again to see an idea that is media-neutral.  I want to see ideas that are great because of the opportunity that their media presents.  I want excitement and possibility to characterise the marriage of media and idea. I want ideas that are media-exuberant.

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About Philip O'Neill
Too much time spent thinking about clothes, advertising and music. And golf.

8 Responses to Please can we kill the media-neutral idea?

  1. martin says:

    I understand what you mean and mostly agree. It’s jargon. Though as a “creative”, I will still approach briefs from a media-neutral position – which for me means “what is the best channel/space/whatever in which to point this idea I hope I have very soon”.

    • Martin, thanks for your comment. I agree with the point that it’s jargon, but it’s jargon that reflects the problem. My question lies in the second part of your comment. It’s the distinction between the idea and the channel/space/whatever that I find frustrating. It just seems logical to me that the idea is going to be better if it considers the channel/space/whatever during its creation. Because the channel/space/whatever is where the idea lives. My feeling is that we are ending up with more and more ‘whatever’ moments – opportunities to connect a brand to a person in ways that aren’t ‘traditional’. This is a good thing. As people are spending less time with ‘traditional’ media this is forcing us to create new opportunities to connect people with brands. But if this is true shouldn’t the opportunity to connect the brand with the person (i.e. the media) be part of the brief, because in reality it’s part of the idea? This doesn’t diminish the role of the creative process or the value of the idea. Arguably it elevates it by making the media central to the idea. And if the media becomes central to the idea then surely it can’t, by definition, be neutral?

  2. Pingback: Media is the context for creative « A day in the life of Harvey & Gilmot

  3. kirill says:

    Hey there, I’m also quite unsure if media neutrality is an entirely helpful concept. check out my post on this topic on …

    http://bit.ly/bpSAzx

    if you like.

    • Philip O'Neill says:

      Kirill, thanks for your comment. I read your post. I agree with what you’re saying. Everything depends on the idea, just as everything depends on the media. You can’t divorce the two. Best, Philip
      (I tried to sign up to your RSS feed but it doesn’t seem to be working?).

      • Kirill says:

        Philip, thanks for your interest, please try again. It should work now. I’m really happy to welcome interested readers!!!!

  4. Pingback: This was a nice surprise « A day in the life of Harvey & Gilmot

  5. Pingback: Some things simply must be blogged « A day in the life of Harvey & Gilmot

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