I remember being taught that advertising exists at the junction of art and commerce. The combination of such instinctively opposite things; a huge breadth of different types of people ultimately trying to combine the intangibles of ideas and creativity, with the very tangible of clients’ business results. And maybe even agency profit.
However, these days advertising is moving closer to an existence that lives at the intersection of entertainment and commerce, and it is the brands that can learn to harness the fruits of this powerful new position that will come out on top.
Advertising that becomes entertainment
The ad industry has always used entertainment, but we used to be just subservient and peripheral. People would queue up and pay money to see whatever new things the entertainment industry created, from vaudeville to the moving image, from the wireless to cable TV. And our ad industry would be figuratively running alongside, singing and dancing to distract these consumers away from what they really wanted to look at.
Branded content has a bad rep—in many cases, rightly so—but really, its brands providing entertainment that matters, content or otherwise. Brands that don’t dilute a consumer’s desire for entertainment, but instead genuinely add to it.
The use of ad-blocking software continues to rise around the world, and consumers are becoming adept at avoiding ads altogether, actively choosing to tune out and turn off. The fact that there is an entire business model around “pay to go ad-free” says something very scary about parts of our industry. Consumers are willing to put their hand in their pocket, not to buy the things we are selling, but to pay us to go away? Something’s wrong here.
When it comes to entertainment, however, consumers can feel and taste the difference in intention. Unlike marketers who prioritize aspects like market originality or brand identity, entertainment showrunners, writers and creators are focused more on the creative element of entertainment value alone, and that makes all the difference in crafting compelling storytelling. The quality of entertainment is paramount, and as branded content becomes an increasingly major marketing channel, brands that look to the entertainment industry for skill, conception and direction will strengthen their viability.
For instance, Hollywood looks at 2014’s Lego Movie as an unlikely movie success story. But I just see a 90-minute commercial, one in which people actively queued up to pay money to go and see. Aren’t these the same consumers who used to go for a bathroom break when my 30-second ad came on TV?
This content clearly came from a brand, but it didn’t put people off at all. If the content is good, that’s the only measure. If it comes from a brand, a movie studio, a celebrity, who cares?
And as consumers increasingly acquire more choice and autonomy, the future belongs to brands and marketers that can create stories, services and products that people willingly seek out and desire. And thus, marketing will elevate and evolve into an industry that centers around creating experiences that people enjoy, rather than tolerate. In short, brands that act the same way as the entertainment industry.
The entertainment industry needs us, too
While brands and marketers can gain tremendous insights by turning to the entertainment industry for guidance, there’s an increasingly symbiotic relationship between the two worlds, and entertainment industry players are also turning to advertising for direction. As media evolves to a direct-to-consumer world, younger audiences are becoming more interested in streamable content that’s accessible on their mobile devices or tablets, and companies like Comcast and Disney are making more money from their cable, streaming or product lines than from movie tickets. The new competitive market structure requires a strong entrepreneurial mentality that’s not always present in the habits of creative entertainers.
Increasingly, executives within the entertainment industry are having to figure out how to package up and communicate their content in a way that speaks to consumers, and they can turn to the ad industry to gain insights around a myriad of effective marketing and sales strategies, from leveraging customer behavior to responding to market conditions more effectively.
An entertainment property needs to really enter culture to get the steam it needs to be a success in such a fragmented landscape, and that is what our industry has always been focused on. For instance, ABC’s Scandal really took off when the cast started live-tweeting the show, bringing fans into the action and driving word of mouth. That may have been some form of happy accident, but it was the kind of ad industry thinking the entertainment industry never needed before.
Looking forward, as the worlds of entertainment and advertising collide, both industries appear likely to have increasing opportunities and need to learn from, and lean on, each other in powerful ways.
The future belongs to brands who learn from the entertainment industry and act with it rather than against it. And the entertainment industry might even have something to learn from us, too. Maybe over time both will meet in the middle in a true junction of entertainment and commerce.