Mark S. Pendolino



  McLuhan and Marketing  


Interactive Media as a Marketing Tool


Resurgence of Online Advertising

Interactive Media's Effectiveness in Advertising

Burger King's Interactive

McLuhan and Marketing

Future of Interactive Media and Marketing





McLuhan Predicted Interactivity as Powerful

Prophetic Before the Web

Canadian-born Herbert Marshall McLuhan, once declared a "national resource" in his birth country, seemed to have recognized the inherent difficulty of communication itself and focused on the ever-developing mediums that produced mass communications.

McLuhan stated that verbal communication takes place only inadequately and seldom is properly understood. Conversely, nonverbal communication was more effective because of the cultural objects and behaviors - such as drinking, smoking or the weather - shared by the people communicating with each other (Varey 1999).

This thought process leads into one McLuhan's more well-known metaphors: "The Global Village." In 1964, McLuhan foresaw the impact of electronic media and the change that would be brought about through instantaneous communications (Varey 1999).

Consider this statement from McLuhan in 1965: "There are no remote places. Under instant circuitry, nothing is remote in time or in space. It's now."

This is the prophetic vision of the ever developing "single community" existence. We have seen within the past year how technology and the Internet has allowed disparate groups to come together instantly, to form community groups through the ether, to share, converse and connect in ways never before possible. There is no greater example than the past presidential election and the power that electronic communication avenues held for people to unite, organize, and raise money. And it continues to develop even further.

The Medium, not the Message

McLuhan's other oft-repeated mantra was "The Medium is the Message." McLuhan felt that the media conventions, not the information contained within, are what is important. He felt that the medium helped to affect the way people perceive the world - and in doing so was much more significant than the text inside (Varey 1999).

The media affects habits of perception and thinking; they do not simply deliver content. Thus, it is important to turn from the content to the total effect of the message. Consider how media has powerfully shaped and re-shaped our social and cultural landscape. Consider the printing press, the telegraph, the radio, the television, the Internet; all have had fundamental impacts on how we as humans exist, interact and communicate on a cultural and social level.

McLuhan and Advertisers

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McLuhan always had a love/hate relationship with advertisers. He felt that advertising was one of the great art forms of the age, he analyzed advertisements and their rhetorical messages to identify the social attitudes that conveyed them (Varey 1999).

McLuhan felt that advertisers knew instinctively that their job was not to convey an idea, but to achieve an effect, but he also saw the shortcomings of many advertisers, despising the corrupt use of art in advertisements.

Understanding that marketers are essentially communicators, he urged for deeper thought in the industry. He felt that the serious impacts of media and advertising on our culture deserved a greater understanding of the medium used and the effects, not just the effectiveness, of the media available to them (Varey 1999).

McLuhan and Interactivity

McLuhan's ideas lend specific power to the use of interactive media in marketing. He felt that if people paid more attention to static advertisements, that they would los their power. For McLuhan, the best way to oppose something was to understand it, for then "you know where to turn off the buttons" (Varey 1999). Exactly the case with empowered audiences today.

Consumers today are bombarded at every angle with ads, sponsorships, logos, and every possible conception of subversive branding. Most of these messages are falling short, getting lost in the noise. And with the development of further communicative technology, consumers are finding ways to bypass the advertising completely. Hence, if advertisers empower their audience, give them the buttons in which to control it the way they please, then the message may stick a little bit longer, a little bit easier.

As McLuhan so prophetically pointed out, the real communication challenge for marketers is to develop more participatory communication systems rather than generic persuasive promotional messages (Varey 1999). It is then that the power of interactivity can be used to its full extent.

Looking Ahead

So what does the future look like for interactive media in marketing? Next we take a brief glimpse into the future to get an idea of what to expect.

Herbert Marshall McLuhan, 1911-1980

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