I enjoyed a post I saw on AdWeek that described how it’s getting harder to seperate advertising from entertainment. A fantastic quote that summarizes the article well: “Advertising, in many cases, is no longer a toll you pay to watch content but is taking the form of content itself.”
Advertising has to be entertaining, or it’s (relatively) worthless.
This isn’t a new phenomenon– it has always been the case. A lot of old advertisements look stale today, but that’s primarily because we judge them by today’s standards. Standards change.
The first banner ad on the internet by AT&T (a full decade ago, in 1994!) was entertaining. What would it lead to? What was it about? People wanted to know, and it had a staggering 44% clickthrough rate. Today, most banner ads are lucky if they can get more than a 0.04% clickthrough. That’s 1100 times less effective!
We’ve learnt to tune them out. We simply aren’t entertained by banner ads anymore.
“Entertaining” is a moving target.
You can experience this yourself. Try sitting through a children’s show like Blue’s Clues, with all its repetition and lengthy pauses. Children love it because it’s predictable, and they’ll watch it over and over again.
As they grow older, they lose interest. It becomes too familiar; no longer entertaining.
I’ve noticed a similar effect with old movies. I watched 2001: A Space Oddyssey with a few friends, hoping to appreciating the classic. We kept giggling at the heavily-parodied music, and we twiddled our thumbs during the lengthy scenes where ‘nothing’ happened.
Similarly, what was “revolutionary marketing” a decade ago becomes boring now, because we’ve gotten so used to it. The Oreo tweet during the Super Bowl in 2013 was unexpected, so it attracted incredible media coverage. Now, every brand attempts to get in on the action at any major event.
It’s become predictable, so it ceases to be entertaining. “Yeah, that happened.” “Uh huh.”
There are many different degrees of entertainment.
Nothing is universally entertaining; different things entertain people to different degrees in different ways.We proposed the idea of a ‘continuum of newsworthiness’ when exploring the marketing behind Sony’s Bottled Walkman:
As we go from left to right, we go from scandalous to sublime, “cheap” to “costly”, replicable to revolutionary. If you invent the future, you barely need any advertising at all.
As information gets cheaper, audiences get pickier.
“Everybody is too much in a hurry. In olden times, it was different.”– The Medical Record, 1884 [source]
In the past, people were happy to click a banner ad because there wasn’t much else to do. We probably even read most of the text on any given page(!). Today, we share links without reading them.
The drastic change in the availability of information has drastically changed the way we consume it. People haven’t changed, we’re just adapting to our changing circumstances.
History suggests that older generations will always find this to be distasteful, and that each new generation grows up internalizing it as the way things have always been. Regardless of where we stand, technology marches forward, changing the way we live and work.
Implications: Brands that entertain consumers through the noise, win.
Branding used to be a superficial stamp on livestock or produce. “This is where this product is from. This label says so.”
With time and collective experience, branding has become much more sophisticated. Branding isn’t just “Made by X”, but why it’s made, and how. It can’t just be an afterthought; it has to run through the heart of the product, and through the organization responsible for it.
That’s the only way you can create something that’s compelling to the modern, hyper-informed consumer.
Additional final thoughts:
- If you think about it, the role of the ad is to ask for the sale, and the sales process has become so all-encompassing that you’re now always being sold to, every second of every day. So it makes perfect sense for the ad to “expand” as well. The sale is diffused now.
- It’s interesting to think about the future of brand-created content. Red Bull Stratos and the Lego Movie are probably just “early” examples. I think market forces will push brands to create content that is superior to “regular” journalism, which has until recently been dependent on controlled distribution. Brands will start either creating or owning the sources of relevant, interesting, useful content. They will make longer-term investments, have in-house content creators, etc. Exciting times for anybody who’s interested in quality stuff.