30 January 2010

Testing 1, 2, 3....

THIS IS A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM

Growing up, we heard that droning message while watching TV at various times of the day on every channel. On Saturday mornings, the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) gave us enough time to get a fresh bowl of cereal half-way through Scooby Doo, a staple of our Saturdays until they introduced Scrappy, he ruined everything.

Although the EBS was an American initiative, we were exposed to it because we watched their TV stations, drank their Kool Aid and marveled at all the neat products that weren't available on this side of the border. As Canadians, we were a casual bystander with enough of a socialist mentality to empathize with the Russians and a strong enough capitalist desire to consider ourselves as best buddies with our friends to the south. But, the sporadic EBS tests reminded us that we weren't entirely safe sitting on the sidelines, we were far from it.

The one minute monotone message could interrupt us at any time and warn us of impending doom which heightened the experience of growing up during the cold war. Scaring the hell out of children, showing kids how to cowl under their desks and general fear mongering was the order of the day. This was emphasized in the neighborhoods with giant air raid sirens casting cold shadows across the school yards.

Looking back, it all seems so silly - after the wall came down in the late 80's and Gorbachev turned out to be an idealistic hippy, the threat quickly dissolved. But the EBS didn't. The EBS soldiered on until 1997 when it was replaced by the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Prior to the EBS there was the CONELRAD system, which Bob Dylan sings the blues about, or rather talks about in one of his songs about world war III.

The EBS expanded to include satellite radio and network news stations. The focus went from a war alert to more of an alert of national interests like natural disasters and terror threats, which has yet to happen. Events like 9/11, the Oklahoma bombing and hurricane Katrina were ignored by the EBS because network news stations scooped the story. And, with the interweb consuming all souls through social media outlets the need for a national alert system comes into question. Everyone in the world knew that Michael Jackson died within 20 minutes of him popping the last pill, with jokes circulating just as quickly... all without any help from the EAS.

Many years ago, you could reach the masses through radio which is why the CONELRAD system was employed, it was later replaced to include TV stations with the EBS for greater reach and then again later with little more reach by the EAS. These days however, internet access is rampant and TV and radio are reaching fewer and fewer numbers. With social media entrenched in amongst the masses, news of world events like the Haiti earthquake spread quickly and with surprising results - people can actually respond and offer aid. Now isn't that a better way to handle crisis than to spew out warnings to a useless and powerless audience?

I guess what I'm saying is that social media is good for more than marketing, which is where most of the emphasis is placed it seems. It's not surprising, it's no different than any other medium when it first arrives on the scene. The invention of any great new media always gets greeted with 'how can we monetize this?' Slapping ads on things is the most creative form of making money for people that don't work in creative.

Getting messages out to the masses is easier than ever, ...if it's big news.

To market something these days, it had better be big news if you want to break through the clutter.

Think about this the next time you are putting a campaign together, ask yourself - would I share this with others? Or, will it just be another innocuous droning message with nothing much to say?

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