A year or so ago, I was standing in the agency reception in Soho reading The Sun.
The TV is on, showing rolling news from CNN.
Suddenly there’s a news flash.
A plane had just crashed into a building in Manhattan.
It’s only a small single-engine plane.
But, because this is a couple of years after 9/11, it’s big news.
No one knows if it’s another terrorist attack or just an accident.
It’s hit a building on 72nd Street and 2nd Avenue.
The building’s on fire and debris is showering down into the street.
Fire trucks are blocking the street and cops are keeping everyone away.
I’m watching the pictures broadcast from a news helicopter.
I’m worried because my sister lives two blocks away from there, on 74th Street and 2nd Avenue.
I check the time difference and figure she would normally be at work by now.
So I call her at her office on 34th Street.
I’m relieved when she picks up.
I say, “Hi Shirl, I just want to check you guys are okay.”
She says, “Sure, why?”
I say, “Because of that plane that just hit the upper east side?”
She says, “What plane?”
I say, “It’s on CNN, an apartment block at 72nd and 2nd.”
She says “WHAT?”
She calls her husband Jerry, back at their apartment.
He says, “I didn’t hear anything, let me look out the window,”
He looks, comes back and says, “Gee there sure are a lot of cops and fire trucks around.”
He goes out on the street to see what’s up.
But the cops won’t let him out of his building.
They say, “Sorry buddy, we gotta keep the streets clear. A plane just hit a building on the next block.”
And he hadn’t noticed.
Now here’s a thing.
I’m over three thousand miles away.
In another country.
On another continent.
And I know a plane has hit a building next to him before he does.
How does that work?
I think we each live in a little world encompassed by our immediate consciousness.
Our context, our surroundings, our environment.
Two blocks away was outside his consciousness.
The room he was in was his consciousness.
And all he’s conscious of in there is the music from the CD player.
So the plane-crash didn’t exist within his immediate consciousness.
Meanwhile, I was in another time zone.
But I had the TV on in the room I was in.
So the news on the TV was in my immediate consciousness.
It wasn’t 3,000 miles away.
It wasn’t even two blocks away like it was for my brother-in-law.
It was right next to me.
So to be heard, you have to be in someone’s immediate consciousness.
That means in an intimate space.
That means one-to-one.
That means, if you’re using mass media, you’re only ever talking to one person.
You’re never addressing a crowd of thousands of people.
Even if the reach of your communication is in the millions.
You’re only ever talking to one person at a time.
This isn’t new.
This is how advertising’s always worked.
Go back to Kitchener’s original World War One poster.
The army, fighting the Germans, was running out of soldiers
So they ran a recruitment poster.
But the visual didn’t show massed ranks of soldiers.
With the headline, THE BRITISH ARMY IS SHORT OF TWO MILLION NEW RECRUITS.
The visual was Kitchener pointing out of the poster, straight at the person looking at the poster.
And the headline said YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU.
And that poster worked.
It got millions of recruits,
By talking to people one at a time.
It was so successful the USA copied it a few years later with a picture of Uncle Sam and the same headline.
And it recruited millions of men there, too.
One at a time.
And that poster was nearly 100 years ago.
And since then media has changed and changed again.
We’ve had moving pictures, then talking pictures, then radio, then television, then colour television, then CD players, then MP3 players, then digital, then social media, then whatever’s next.
And media’s changed and it’ll keep changing.
In fact the only thing that hasn’t changed is people.
They’re still the same.
All anyone’s aware of is their immediate consciousness.
That’s where media has to reach them.
Whatever the media is.
So we’re still only ever talking to one person.