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The role of public media in an algorithmic world

A recent Westminister Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis got us thinking about the role of “public” media in a brand’s messaging. By public media I am not referring to NPR or public TV – but rather media that is broadcast out into a “public space” versus served directly one-on-one by an algorithm. The Forum itself has an interesting history – started in 1980 by a local church to “engage in pubic dialogue and reflection on issues of the day.” It has always been free and open to anyone who cares to attend and attracts the top thinkers, writers and change agents worldwide.

This particular discussion featured Frank Bruni, New York Times Op-Ed columnist, on the topic of Media in the Age of Misinformation. Much of the content focused on the very real issue of “fake news and alternative facts,” but his comments about why fake news flourishes gave us pause to think. “Modern technology has allowed us to edit down every one of our experiences to just the parts we want to see and hear and to marinate in them as never before.” This has the effect of keeping us within our own confines versus expending them. Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter all encourage this. The recommendations we get are meant to keep us within our proven comfort zones.


As an advertiser, if you are relying solely on algorithm-based served media, including social media platforms, you may be missing out. “Social media coddles you from, and enables you to tune out anything that contradicts what you think you know,” says Bruni. These closed information loops create smaller and smaller “customized cocoons” fueling tribalism. As an advertiser, you may end up talking only to those who reward you with a click or a completed view, ever narrowing your potential audience. At CCF, we believe that adding public-facing media to a plan – such as traditional television, terrestrial radio and out of home – can break down these “filter bubble” barriers.

It is easy to see the need for public-facing media if you are a brand that is working to change social norms. Running messages that reach people in a “public manner” help fuel public discourse and dialogue on a subject and force the conversation beyond tribal bubbles.

For CPG brands, the rationale for including public-facing media may seem cloudy. We view it as a way to ensure you are bringing new customers into the top of your funnel. As Bruni also pointed out, “What you see on the Internet can often be a hall of mirrors – it does not take that large of a tribe of believers to make a footprint online that feels like a critical mass movement.” As an advertiser, if you limit your outreach to those “in the tribe” you inadvertently may be limiting your future growth. This does not mean abandoning programmatic video, social media and other algorithm-based media any more than it means only using public-facing media. Rather, thoughtfully thinking through the place for each in your plan.

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