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June 27, 2010

Web Advertising’s Future Format: Branded Entertainment

How do you deliver a marketing message to a Web-audience that hates advertising? A few years back I proposed a solution based on short-form television-style programs: the “120 Second Solution,” two minute brand-story commercials formatted in a mini three act Web-video presentation. Today this concept is called Branded Entertainment: a two to seven minute commercial that combines content, advertising, and entertainment in a brand story format designed to attract and hold an audience’s attention while delivering a memorable core marketing message.

The concept has been a hard sell as it flies in the face of a lot of conventional wisdom about advertising formats, attention spans, and content credibility. Like most good ideas it seems that branded entertainment’s time has finally come. Various marketing blogs are all a twitter about Orbit Gum’s new campaign called “Dirty Shorts” featuring its first branded entertainment effort, a 5:17 minute branded video from Jason Bateman and Will Arnett. It seems these well-known actors have enough faith in this advertising format that they’ve formed DumbDumb, a branded video production company. Their first effort, “The Prom Date,” was viewed 110,000 times in just three days.

The Prom Date

Commitment To A Core Message

Of course not everyone has the deep pockets required to hire Jason Bateman, but with proper planning and implementation a branded entertainment video campaign is within reach of most successful small and medium sized companies.

The single biggest obstacle in implementing this kind of campaign is not the cost, but rather, the commitment to a style and format most business owners find hard to swallow: the need to focus on a single core reason why customers should buy your product or service and to deliver that message in some bold or offbeat manner.

All too often entrepreneurs think of advertising in conventional terms like display, banner, and classified (e.g. Adwords). Even Web video has been pushed, prodded and crammed into pre-roll and post-roll television style spots. The Web isn’t television; it requires a whole new way of thinking when it comes to marketing presentations.

The Web is by nature an unconventional arena that demands bold content. You can say and do a lot of things on the Web, but the one thing that won’t be tolerated is boring your audience. Add to that the fact that we live in a product placement world where the line between advertising and content has been permanently erased and you have an advertising environment that demands something different.

You must stop thinking of your website as a digital brochure and start thinking of it as a total immersive multimedia advertising environment that connects to a target audience using standout, break-through communication techniques. The goal is quality engagements not shotgun traffic.

The Goal Is Quality Engagement NOT Traffic

For the average Web business it is important to remember that huge viral numbers don’t come from clever campaigns alone, but rather, are the result of great campaigns plus advertising support, extensive PR, and paid-blog placement. That is not to say that small and medium-sized companies shouldn’t pursue this approach but rather, the goal of these campaigns should be quality engagement not quantity traffic – a far more affordable and productive objective.

How To Deliver Break-Through Advertising

There are various ways to achieve what ad agencies call break-through advertising, but in every case those methods call for content that stands out from the crowd, be it humorous, offbeat, alarming or just plain entertaining, if it doesn’t standout it won’t make a connection, and your website presentation will be instantly forgotten.

The best and most complete example of branded entertainment that I have seen was the brilliant Shredded Wheat “The Palace of Light” campaign. It was very funny while delivering a powerful marketing message. Unfortunately the campaign is no longer running, but if you can find some of the videos on the Web, they are definitely worth seeing. They are great examples of how to turn advertising into content, and content into a memorable experience.

In a speech about break-through advertising, Chuck Porter, co-founder of Crispin Porter + Bogusky states the average person sees conservatively 1600 to 3000 marketing messages a day. That’s a lot of advertising. If your marketing communication doesn’t standout in some way, you are probably wasting your advertising budget.

Two Kinds of Advertising

In response to a question asking whether advertising was technology and data driven, or creatively driven, Porter explained that there are basically two types of advertising.

The tech-data driven ad is all about finding that person who needs what you sell at a time when he or she wants to buy it and then delivering the message to them. This is the reason why so much of what you see, hear, and read in marketing journals and blogs is filled with statistics and analysis of who is doing what and where. All of which is perfectly fine if the only customer you want is the one that needs what you sell instantly or who is motivated by impulse.

This kind of advertising is all about immediacy; the customer needs or impulsively wants what you offer right now. The key is instant access. If customers don’t have instant access, chances are the impulse to purchase will fade, or the prospect will find it more convenient to get the product elsewhere. In this type of advertising, timing and immediacy is paramount. The downside is no long-term relationship is established.

Digital products that can be downloaded instantly seem to be most appropriate for this approach, however that must be qualified by the level of cost and sophistication associated with the product or service: the higher the cost and the more complex or advanced the offering, the less impulsive the decision, and the more a client must be wooed. Advertising theory commonly suggests it takes seven engagements in order to win over a client.

The other kind of advertising is creative-based; it’s advertising built around brand awareness and identity. This is the kind of advertising that creates customers, and establishes long-term loyalty. This is the kind of advertising that can benefit from implementing a branded entertainment campaign.

Why Branded Entertainment Works

If branded entertainment is done right, it engages an audience, it informs and enlightens, it entertains and amuses, it’s meaningful and memorable and potentially viral. Branded entertainment is more than advertising, it’s marketing, and it is designed to influence attitudes, change perceptions, and prompt action.

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design and marketing firm that specializes in Web-video Marketing Campaigns and Video Websites. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.