Is That a TV Show or Are You Trying to Sell Me Something?
Content providers maintain an uneasy alliance with advertisers. Both sides know that ads enjoy greater attention when they are hard to separate from the content that surrounds them. And both sides need the advertising to succeed. But the content people also know their customers will balk if they feel that content has been compromised by paid marketing.
As consumers’ devices and desires to filter out ads continue to advance, the line of permissible intrusion keeps moving deeper. First there were advertorials and ad copy rendered in a publication’s house font (usually but not always discreetly labeled “Paid Advertising”). The most infamous, of course, was the recent Scientology advertorial that was quickly yanked from The Atlantic’s website. (The publication has since revised its sponsored content policies.)
Then there was material published by “content marketers” to serve the kinds of information needs typically met by traditional content providers, thus adding value to a customer’s engagement with a brand. And all along we’ve had product placement in films, TV shows, and games.
A recent campaign shows how far a marketer can now go to make its advertising blend in with the surrounding context. After the retailers Target and Neiman Marcus teamed up on some merchandise, they decided to advertise it on ABC’s drama series Revenge. First they opted for a “takeover” of the program, meaning that every ad in the hour-long segment was theirs. Then, to make the most of that sole sponsorship, they hired the show’s cast to perform in character in five long-form commercials. These were unquestionably ads (the Target-Neiman Marcus line was prominent in them), but by borrowing all the elements viewers had chosen to enjoy and stringing the spots into a “story within a story,” the marketers made them hard to tune out. Here’s a sample of one (pardon the more obvious ad technique that is pre-roll):
What instantly became clear is that there is a big difference between ads that travel into native territory and ads that “go native.” Clearly, there are major expenses as well as tricky constraints involved when a brand opts to blend in with indigenous content. But there will be enough opportunities, and enough reasons, for marketers to do more of this.Those that discover they can move comfortably in this realm may never go home again.
This is the seventh in a series of posts from our March issue on the future of advertising. Stay tuned for more “Creative That Cracks the Code” over the coming weeks; topics include Variations on a Meme; Collaborating With the Crowd; The Ad as a Game; Just Enough Humor; A New Social Movement; and Personalized Products.
We also want to know which ad campaigns strike you as innovative; tell us below and we could analyze your pick as part of this series.
The Future of Advertising
An HBR Insight Center