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Media 101 – the difference between alternative & mainstream

by Andrew Franks
What is your favourite restaurant? It is a simple question that should elicit a fairly speedy response.

Now remove food from the equation and consider the other aspects that contribute to your decision.

More likely than not, your answer will include an aspect pertaining to the staff or service. Perhaps the manager recognises your face, and as a result greets you in a particular manner. Perhaps he knows your name or even your favourite wine or dish on the menu.

While there may be a variety of reasons you may like to visit your favourite restaurant, which do not include the food, feeling like a valued patron can, and often does, bring about a cherished sense of familiarity.

So what, you may ask, has familiarity got to do with alternative and mainstream media? Familiarity implies the existence of personal knowledge or information about someone or something. While both streams of media rely on the premise that they are familiar with their target market, it is the level of familiarity that separates the two.

Alternative media is the small Italian restaurant on the corner as opposed to the mainstream restaurant franchise in the mall. The hypothetical little guy. The corner restaurant has only a handful of tables but this allows for the owner to engage with his patrons on a more personal level. He knows that his customers visit his restaurant because they enjoy a particular food offering.

If an item on his menu does not receive particular interest, he is able to amend his recipe with relative ease. As the world moves into a new generation of technological device growth and expansion, everything around us is required to evolve with it, including the way that media is delivered to the public.

This ability to evolve with the demands of an ever-changing environment is possibly the most valuable advantage alternative media has over its mainstream counterpart.

Alternative media tends to a specific need at a specific point in time in a cost-effective manner. Consider coffee, for example. It is the second-largest commodity in the world next to oil, with a daily consumption of over 1,6 billion cups. The average time that a consumer spends with an advertised take-away coffee cup is 37 minutes.

That is 37 minutes of direct exposure. Consider the same message printed as an advertisement in a newspaper. Mainstream ensures mass awareness whereas alternative media allows for intimate brand alignment and enables one to get something new and innovative into the hands of your consumer.

It’s not to say that mainstream media is a dinosaur doomed to end up as a spectacle in a museum. Not in the least. For bigger brand strategies, it makes sense to make use of both mainstream and alternative media. Think of alternative media as a solution, rather than a competitor, to mainstream media. It lends itself to the voices that might not necessarily have been heard via mainstream.

These voices are, furthermore, aired to an audience that is highly specific. As a result, the audience is given the feeling that they are not merely a number. It is psychology 101. People are drawn to personalised ideas and offerings, and this is where alternative media thrives.

Andrew Franks is a Director at Tag 8.
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