Entertainment v. Function: The Convergence

Reading Chris Brogan’s post from April 3 on the shifting impacts of advertising gave me pause. Inspired by a piece on Jeff Jarvis’ blog, Brogan contends that advertising is losing sight of its chief responsibility: informing the customer about the product. Furthermore, he takes a pretty direct aim at new forms of marketing by locating the heart of modern advertising’s undoing in one simple phrase: “entertainment overtook function.” Quite a claim, and an especially scary one for someone spending each and every work-day figuring out how to create entertainment tailored to brand objectives.


Brogan’s worry is worth addressing as it’s one that’s been floating around since the dawn of brand funded entertainment. To begin addressing it, I think it’s best to first consider the question of relevancy to consumer, which is both a tactical (“what medium?”) as well as a strategic (“what should this content say and to whom?”) concern.  In a world with endless overlaid inputs (the average person sees up to 1,000 ads per day), it’s just as easy for the consumer to lose sight of the advertisement as it is for the advertiser to lose sight of its aims.  Here’s where interesting and innovative entertainment can work as an important part of a viable digital marketing strategy.

The recent findings of a Netpop Research Report present a telling picture of how and where people communicate today. Online social networks, including everything from Facebook to blogs, have become the forums of modern interconnectedness. The report found that, in fact, “communication [has become] entertainment.” Digital tools and infrastructures have facilitated and perhaps created even greater demand for frequent communication through and from a myriad of channels.  In and of itself, this shift to the digital sphere provides a rich opportunity for sociological study, but for the purposes of this post, it’s more interesting to note that consumers are sharing rich-media with each other in increasing numbers and seeking this content in the medium in which they can most easily share it (online). New technologies have ushered in a convergent digital milieu of multi-media, a culture of always-on sharing through online social networks. Creating digital content is step one: translating the brand into a language native to today’s consumers.

The old system in which “PR” was entirely separate from “entertainment” is no longer the most viable model either.  Brands like Red Bull, Axe, Dove and Nike have embedded themselves in the lives of their customers through smart, well-executed, cross-channel campaigns that target consumers and provide them with entertainment while informing them about the brand itself and what its products can do.  Steve Rubel (in the aforementioned post on Jarvis’ blog) claims that the “product is [the] ad” but this doesn’t fully represent a brand’s scope. What a brand and its products are in the 21st century is an aggregate of sentiments towards the brand and the function of the product or service – the sum is greater than the parts. For its fans, Red Bull isn’t just an energy drink, it’s an identification with a particular, highly-cultivated image that gives it, and in turn its fans, a unique cultural niche. Telling the brand’s stories through music, video and events is more than a PR stunt – it’s a fundamental sculpting of its identity. 

To return again to Brogan’s argument, entertainment has become a valuable strategic and tactical tool in the creation of functional advertising that goes far beyond merely informing consumers about a product. Entertainment gives the brand a personality, an image, and a voice that allows it to speak to consumers in the forums they prefer.

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