Advertainment

New marketing buzzwords become part of the lexicon each year. They identify current trends in the field and are often embraced by advertisers as a way to stay in the vanguard. Some buzzwords are insightful and thought-provoking, whereas others are downright asinine. One word that is particularly interesting based on content in the market is advertainment.

Advertainment is a relatively new buzzword that means exactly what it sounds like—advertising that is fused with entertainment. The fact that this is a newer word may seem strange, as companies have always aimed to create advertisements that will grab the viewers’ attention and serve as effective marketing. And the best way to do that is to entertain and inform.

However, recent marketing efforts have redefined what advertisements can look like and accomplish—with content so captivating that it’s easy for viewers to forget they’re actually watching commercials designed to influence their behavior.

Red Bull produced one of the most successful examples of advertainment in 2012 with their filming of Felix Baumgartner’s “space jump”—an event that witnessed the Austrian skydiver break several world records and become the first person to go faster than the speed of sound after he jumped from a helium balloon in the stratosphere. The event tied in perfectly with the Red Bull company slogan, “Red Bull gives you wings,” as well as the company’s affinity to sponsor various extreme sporting events. Red Bull even hired the analysts that announced the event and encouraged them and Baumgartner to emphasize how much Red Bull had helped him train and perform.

The event, named Red Bull Stratos, was a huge success that attracted a record number of live viewers. More than eight million people accessed YouTube’s live stream just before Baumgartner jumped from 128,000 feet above Earth. The previous record for concurrent live viewers was held by Google’s broadcast of the 2012 Summer Olympics only a few months before, which garnered 500,000 viewers. The Red Bull Stratos highlight video currently boasts 38.6 million views on Red Bull’s YouTube Channel, while the rest of the videos related to the event have been viewed a combined total of 40 million times.

Other brands have also produced advertisements that double as entertainment. Johnnie Walker, a brand of Scotch whisky, has released a couple of commercials over the past few years that extend beyond the six-minute mark and feature lavish production sets, impressive choreography and big-name actors. In 2009, advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty teamed up with director Jamie Rafn of the production company HLA to film a unique commercial for Johnnie Walker.

Set in the Scottish countryside, the commercial follows actor Robert Carlyle briskly walking along a gravel road while recounting the nearly 200-year history of the Johnnie Walker brand—from its humble beginnings to its status as the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world. The six and a half minute commercial, “The Man Who Walked Around the World,” was filmed as one continuous shot and involved various props that appear in perfect sequence with Carlyle’s narration.

As director Jamie Refn explained, creating the commercial required some ingenuity to maintain the viewers’ interest: “Apart from the bagpiper at the beginning there were no other characters to feed off, so the props had to stand in as a sort of character. Working out what they should be, where they should turn up (in relation to [Carlyle]) and when they should turn up was a key part of sustaining the audience’s intrigue in what was going on.” After watching the piece, it is clear that the end goal was masterfully achieved. The video—which shows the 40th and final take—currently has 2.6 million views on YouTube.

Whatever you think of advertainment, it is here to stay. Product placement—a form of advertainment— is as prevalent as ever in sports, movies, television shows, and music videos. And many commercials nowadays feel like an event in and of themselves. But this is to be expected. As Dr. Cristel A. Russell of the University of Michigan’s Yaffe Center for Persuasive Communication explained in a 2007 article, “Advertainment will continue to evolve as advertisers look for better and more effective ways to communicate with consumers.” The current trend appears to be the creation of advertisements that are entertainment first and foremost, with products being marketed almost as an afterthought—in subtle yet effective ways.

Tom Stearns
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