Marshall McLuhan, in front of bank of TV screens

Copywriting tip 6: Where – the medium is the message

The medium is the message trimmed

That’s Marshall McLuhan, sitting there. Co-author of the famous book The Medium is the Message.

It’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot in marketing: ‘the medium is the message’.

What does it mean?

For me, it means ‘every medium has a personality’. Every medium has strengths and weaknesses. Characteristics we can harness to enhance our message.

For example, take a banner ad. What is a strength – compared to other mediums?

Well, you can interact. Click on it. Can’t do that with TV, radio, OOH or print.

So, when working on a banner, I’ll start by thinking: ‘how can I get the audience to interact?’.

Here’s a lovely example, from Harley-Davidson.

This is what it looks like.

Harley Davidson banner with standard cursor

Pretty boring, huh? Doesn’t animate, doesn’t move.

But what happens when that cursor goes over something it can click?

Turns into a hand, doesn’t it? Something like this:

Computer cursor as hand icon

But it’s Harley-Davidson.

So, the shape of hand your cursor changes to is this …

Harley-Davidson with cursor as hand with middle finger up

Yep: the middle finger.

What a great use of the medium.

What about radio? Its strength is sound. So don’t just take the soundtrack from the TV ad and put it on air.

I won a couple of radio awards a few years back for Virgin.

Simple ad: it said ‘here’s a list of all the useful free gifts you’ll get from everyone else’. And then silence. For five seconds.

So, harnessing sounds meant the absence of sound.

As you sit down to do your homeworkWho, What, Why – the fourth question to address (Where) is to think about which medium will enhance your message.

Rather than just the one the marketing team has suggested.

It’s important.

Over the years, I’ve been bullied into mediums.

I remember working at a Direct agency in the 90s. We got a brief which, for me, called for classic branding work. TV, print, that sort of thing.

‘Oh,’ they said. ‘If we do that, we’ll lose the budget to the mainstream agency. It has to be in an envelope.’

Not ‘which medium is the best for the job‘. But ‘which medium is the best for us to keep our jobs‘.

So, don’t get bullied. Into TikTok or Likee. Or social. Just because it’s the hot new thing.

Think about the audience, and the message. ‘Where’ is the best channel to reach them?

So, that’s your homework done. The four Ws.

Time to move onto the writing.


This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


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Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.