Why the media neutral idea is dead

For a long time the media neutral idea was king. Its reign gave creative agencies an exciting, stretching brief to develop an idea that would work across the ever growing number of media channels. After the idea was created, the media agency would get a brief to select the channels in which the idea will be applied. The media neutral idea came first. Its application second.

Often the result was budget spread too thinly in ‘a 360 communications plan’. Sometimes it led to creative work that was force fit to all media channels and consequently failed to engage consumers. Communications weren’t optimised for relevance in the right context.

So if the media neutral idea is dead. What instead?

As long as you have a strong idea of what your brand stands for, the first change for many companies is involving media agencies first. Before any creative agencies are engaged.  You might think this won’t sit well with creative agencies as they often like to be the lead agency. In reality creatives think in executions, so selecting the key media channels first enables them to focus their creative ideas with particular channels in mind. It ends the separation of the idea and its application, and ensures content and context to go hand-in-hand to create the most engaging work.

A great example of this comes from the world of pharmaceuticals. Novartis’ The Sight Experience is a personalised video experience that helps you experience the impact of vision loss and related eye conditions through the lens of your own Facebook photos. By tailoring the content to the Facebook platform, Novartis created a relevant, engaging experience. Take a look.

How does this work in practice?

First, define the role for communications and how it can address the job you are trying to do for your brand. It might be to reinforce existing associations consumers have with the brand by reminding them of what they love about the brand experience. If we take British Airways as an example, the team’s objective was to remind lapsed flyers of the number of BA destinations and its status as a leading airline. So the role for communications with this particular audience was to rebuild or heighten those memories by showcasing the number of destinations that BA flies to in a way that builds the brand stature.

In that context, select the core communication channels. The media agency should select the key channels that will deliver the agreed role for communications. In the case of BA, they chose digital outdoor, social media and their website as the main hub.

At that point, develop the creative idea and executions – giving creatives the opportunity to push the idea to its most engaging, relevant limits in each medium.

The work for BA won the Cannes Lion. The ‘Look up’ campaign used a combination of technology using live data from aircrafts with digital outdoor to target the precise moment a BA plane flew overhead to ignite consumers’ passion to explore the world.


Has the media neutral idea had its day? I believe it has. Consumers today demand much richer, deeply engaging experiences than ever before and the best way to connect with them is to ensure customer engagement (communication) is amplified by the media it is in. This means selecting the best channels upfront and developing the creative idea with these in mind. The creative idea will have more impact and meaning because of the media execution rather than irrespective of media choice, and the customer experience will be enriched.


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