Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

Unsplash: Shaun Frankland; headline lyric via Nirvana circa 1991 (RIP Mr. Cobain)

It’s Oscar week. The best marketers are thinking like entertainment companies. John Lewis, Morton Salt and Nike Football get this. Do you?

by Todd Lombardo

The division between ads and content has been long-engrained in our culture: the show is the thing you watch, and the ad is the thing you avoid. Working in an ad agency, we usually reference the “avoid” thing as the shitty ads problem, and this is partially true.

The advertising industry has long done a disservice to viewers by overwhelming them with too many marketing messages and hyper-aggressive targeting: I’ve never seen more toothpaste ads than that one time I googled my dentist.

But everything — both ads and content — it’s ALL just stuff we watch, or read, or swipe. The division between ads and content is false, based more on a media industry structure around ad revenue. But advertising makes the world go ‘round; NBC, MTV, Facebook andSnapchat would not exist without it.

Pay attention

Here’s what’s different in 2017: viewers have a choice whether to see your ad at all. Take this into consideration:

1/No show gets the ratings of yesteryear, except for the Super Bowl. Not Walking Dead, not Atlanta, not The Americans, nor any of these. What else are people doing?

2/Watching Facebook videos. YouTube. Instagram Stories. Messaging. Traditional media is losing share to digital media, per eMarketer.

3/They block ads. They skip ads. 69% of the Snapchat users surveyed skipped ads on the platform “always” or “often.”

4/Ad free environments are popping up everywhere. HBO Now has 2 million subscribers. Netflix has 94 million global subscribers. See also, Spotify and iTunes.

Develop audiences

At Mistress, our advertising mantra is: control has shifted. People can choose whether to watch you or not. So you gotta make them want to watch you. You can get on board, or get out of the way.

Entertainment companies have been thinking like this for decades. The product they produce is entertainment. And their only goal is to get people to watch it. They have whole teams devoted to audience development. Anyone who’s ever created a show for a broadcast network will tell you that yes, they want to touch people’s hearts, or make them laugh; but they will also tell you the scale of the audience they have to reach, and what that would mean in ad dollars.

It’s viewers. Ratings. Subscribers. Driving ad, subscription or ticket revenue.

Meanwhile, over in ad land, we’re still obsessing over GRPs and CPMs. These are important, but we are not talking enough about audience development for the stuff WE are creating. Develop those audiences on platforms like Facebook (the largest marketing platform on earth), and you can dip into that well time and again — with a little boosting to overcome algorithms.

Say yes to original content

This is part of marketing strategy in today’s modern media culture. Advertising KPIs still matter — especially ROI. But if you think you are going to convince people to watch your message via an advertising value proposition, your are mistaken — and you are missing half the story.

Blame YouTube and Facebook for this: brands have a distribution outlet they didn’t used to. We have a real opportunity to tell stories, think like short films, like series.

Here are some brands doing this well:

^A two-minute short film that tugs at heartstrings in the first five seconds. Dogs always work (25 million views).

^This four minute OK Go video is the catchiest-can’t-miss-eye-candy-insanity of 2016. Wait, who’s that girl at 4:03 with the umbrella? Morton Salt? Boy did they get press for this. I can’t imagine the marketing meetings around ROI (18 million views).

^Since the days of Freaky Friday, we have been mesmerized with the idea of switching places with someone else. Nike Football switches a kid with Cristiano Ronaldo. Every boy’s dream come true, and a very worthy five minute short film (60 million views).

There’s more: Chipotle’s School of Guac on Snapchat. Marriott’s Two Bellmen. The expanding New York Times’ T Brand Studio, with $35 million in 2015 revenue, working with all sorts of marketers, because…

Original content is very hard

Do not take away from these examples that embracing an entertainment mindset is easy. It’s expensive. It fails, often. Anyway, do a million video views translate to car purchases? Hotel stays? Tough nut.

Producing real, engaging storytelling is very, very difficult. This is why so many TV shows — and movies — tank. This is why for every viral video, there are 10,000 that nobody ever sees. We could sit here and talk about storytelling 101: premise, characters, conflict, emotionality and resolution — or we could talk about the love-it-or-hate-it screenwriting guide Save The Cat!, but we won’t.

This is another lesson from entertainment companies. There are mathematics to the madness, but there’s also creativity, gut and taking a risk that something just might hit, and maybe change the world.

Call it ads, call it content. Just call it great. That’s the ultimate lesson. We used to have it easier, assuming people didn’t have a choice. Not anymore. The best way to tell a great story is to tell a great story.

Todd Lombardo is a Digital Strategist and Editor at Mistress.