the American writer Mark Twain once wrote: "A cousin of mine was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness, this report of my death was an exaggeration."
He was writing in 1897 in a note to a friend. The story has many versions - the most common is probably "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" - which are useful when someone is trying to refute a view so widely accepted that it is taken for granted as a fact.
An example is the way people talk about traditional media - generally taken to mean print (newspapers and magazines), outdoor, radio and television. The conventional wisdom is that they are dinosaurs that will die out as consumers turn to cheaper, more accessible digital media.
The term "digital" encompasses the means of communication that have sprung up in the past two decades as a result of astonishing advances in computer technology: the Internet, e-mail, Facebook, Skype and Twitter, as well as others that have probably been invented between the writing of this article and the time you read it.
Some of these platforms have been boosted through use by prominent people, as in Barack Obama's imaginative, personalised fundraising campaign for the US presidency. He was able to bypass rules about maximum permissible donations by raising many thousands of small contributions (often of only a few dollars), because technology enabled him to reach individuals - an intimate and immediate process that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
However, media professionals have been more cautious about believing the death notices - or the warnings of terminal illness - regarding the traditional media. The general view seems to be that it's too early to tell.
What is clear is that businesses and individual consumers have adopted some new methods of communication to the point where it is hard to imagine doing without them.
For instance, "snail mail" has been largely replaced by e-mail in business and personal communication, to the point where a letter received physically in an envelope is exceptional - and a major event if it is handwritten. Mail volumes have dropped steadily. In Britain, Royal Mail workers who recently went on strike are running the risk that the UK coal miners did 25 years ago. If you withdraw your labour and society finds it can get along without you, you have hastened your own redundancy.
Cellphones have revolutionised telephonic communication, but they have not made fixed-line operators obsolete, as was expected. There is a growing realisation that, for the time being anyway, wireless links are not going to be as reliable as fixed lines. Amazon.com, the online bookstore founded in the 1990s by Jeff Bezos, threatened to make bookshops obsolete - but that hasn't happened.
Anecdotal evidence suggests many consumers of magazines and newspapers still enjoy the physical act of holding the product and paging through it, especially when they are relaxing. And though cinema advertising revenues, as a proportion of the total cake, have been dropping for years (see table), it's not clear that the movie house will follow the drive-in to extinction.
Moti Grauman, digital media manager at The Media Shop, believes the very proliferation of new communication platforms means some of them will die out. But identifying which is doomed is not easy. Grauman points out that assumptions being made about First-World markets like the US and the UK cannot automatically be extended to SA.
South Africans do have a huge appetite for cellphones, not least because many people did not have access to fixed-line telephones in the first place. Factor in a lack of extensive and reliable public transport, and mobile telephony has become a necessity rather than a luxury.
But that kind of saturation is nowhere near being achieved in the online market, because so many South Africans do not have access to computers and electricity. This means traditional media remain an important means of communication.
"In the UK and the US," says Grauman, "marketers have a much better handle on how to deal with the new communication methods." Even for those in SA who do have computers, "we access the Web, but we don't live online like they do. In SA, relatively few people have constant access to the Internet if they desire it. When that changes, we can expect the marketers to respond."
Even in advanced markets, where online access is cheap and almost universal, marketers are still not sure what works and what doesn't. Some newspapers and magazines have opened up content to free online browsing, while trying to entice advertising based on the number of "hits" by readers. That hasn't always worked, and some sites are now partially or fully restricted to subscribers.
Interactions between the various new methods of communication are still evolving. Marketers are digesting what it means to be able to access TV programmes through computers, and how to deal with recording technology that enables viewers to skip adverts completely. There is increasing convergence between the experiences offered by television, computers and cellphones - but it's not clear what kind of blended outcome this will eventually produce.
So far the evidence is confusing for marketers. Just 4% of people using social networks such as Facebook bother to click on the displayed adverts, according to a survey of 2 000 UK consumers by research company LinkShare. Yet, according to another report, 83 of the US's 100 biggest advertising spenders market their goods on Facebook. Presumably they will revise their strategies.
LinkShare MD Jane Dietrich says fewer than 10% of respondents in the survey are interacting with adverts across social networking sites. "This proves there's still a long way to go until people using networks such as Facebook are converted to online shoppers through targeted advertising." The research also found that 20% of respondents were irritated by advertising on social networking sites.
"It's not that we're being left behind in SA," says Grauman. "We're watching and learning, and will be well placed to take advantage when trends emerge." There's still a bit of a culture gap in the industry, though. "At the moment traditional advertising is handled by traditional marketers, and digital advertising by digital experts. We need crossover to get much stronger collaboration," he says.
There is an opportunity now to leverage a number of mediums, according to Grauman, and to understand the balance between them and how one affects the other. This will help "in understanding which of the traditional mediums is likely to be replaced by digital platforms."
Another blurring factor is that much of the new communication activity, and the marketing that goes with it, is not being measured. Says Bronwen Auret, digital executive at financial media company BDFM: "Digital ad revenue is currently measured by Adex, which does not factor in the digital budget spent by marketers on Google, e-mail and mobile marketing, and social phenomena like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter."
But Auret says some smart SA marketers - banking, short-term insurance and online gambling, for example - are well ahead in exploring opportunities. "Digital platforms are challenging the roles of marketers," says Auret, "and the interaction between brands and their consumers is being intensified. The art of customer engagement is being revolutionised as we speak."
There are other early indications of where the market is going. Research by global media, marketing and digital company Initiative Media found that consumers scored the Internet as 35% more reliable than television. Three-quarters of the 3 200 consumers surveyed (in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the US and China) regard the Internet as "the most essential" form of technology, with mobile phones second at 56%.
Most experts seem to think newspapers and magazines will survive for a long time, though technology has a habit of unexpectedly refining or replacing products that had looked immune to change. An example is the development of Kindle, which aims to replicate the book-reading experience on a screen.
What's important to realise is that in the case of newspapers, books and television, the point of access is all that changes, but the industries that drive them will endure. Users will still need authors to write books for their Kindles, still need journalists to source news and analysis for their online subscriptions, and still need directors and actors to make the films - however they are shown.
What is changing, then, is how users interact with that content. "Our challenge as marketers is to find new and engaging ways of reaching them. New platforms will almost certainly provide new opportunities," says Grauman. The Initiative Media research found that people still rely on newspaper brands for information, but more readers are turning to the same newspapers online.
So it's not so much the trend towards new technologies that is in doubt, but what the mix of traditional and digital media will look like when the landscape begins to settle after the present period of rapid innovation.
In a time of uncertainty, where major investment decisions may be put on hold, it is essential to remember that the foundations of marketing are not dependent on changing technologies.
Says LinkShare's Dietrich: "We don't think brands should walk away, but rather need to evolve what message their adverts are conveying." That's another way of saying that the traditional principles of marketing and selling do not need to be ditched just because the media environment has changed.
You still need to work out who your desired customers are, and start by finding out what they want and how they like to be communicated with.