Thou Shalt Entertain

Walt Disney once said he would “rather entertain and hope people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.” Advertisers today would do well to follow Mr. Disney’s advice. The proliferation of cheap, easily accessible digital media means marketers must deliver entertaining content that happens to be an advertisement, and not the other way around.

Be it funny, dramatic, or visually breathtaking, an entertaining ad is one that viewers seek out, rather than sit through. If you choose not to click “skip this ad,” you’re watching an entertaining ad.

Viewers Have More Choices and Less Patience Than Ever Before

In 2014, the number of digital video ads Americans watched increased by 25%. More importantly, the number of total digital videos watched grew 43% to a staggering 38.2 billion, because ads today aren’t just competing with other ads – they’re also competing with star-studded Netflix originals, viral YouTube videos, and a golden age of high-quality TV shows (see Game of Thrones, Homeland, etc.).

Moreover, consumers pay virtually no switching cost for watching different types of content online. That helps explain why less than one third of online videos are watched through completion and most are abandoned before the halfway mark. Why sit through a boring video when so much entertaining content is just one click away?

An “Entertainment-First” Approach to Marketing

Forward-thinking brands are finding new ways to satisfy consumers’ insatiable demand for entertaining content. Last month, General Electric announced a partnership with academy-award winning filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to develop “Breakthrough,” a documentary series about scientific innovation. CommonFloor, an Indian property-rental startup that has raised over $60M, partnered with a local sketch comedy group to create the low-budget YouTube series “Permanent Roommates,” about a young couple searching for an apartment in Mumbai. Within days of its premiere in October of 2014, Permanent Roommates became the third most-watched long form series in the history of YouTube.

Can Too Much Entertainment Overshadow the Brand?

Back when consumers saw entertainment and advertising as distinctly separate and the only way to share content was through word of mouth, it was reasonable for marketers to worry about an ad’s entertainment value overshadowing its branding. Today’s digital landscape, however, gives advertisers the freedom to truly blur the line between entertainment and marketing.

This is partly because a new generation of digital consumers views brands as trusted endorsers, even arbiters of entertainment. For example, 26-year-old YouTube sensation Tyler Oakley, who unabashedly promotes brands such as Pepsi and Warby Parker to his 3.9 million YouTube followers, says he is “flattered that brands believe in [him].”


In addition, the ease with which content can be shared via social media means entertainment value is an increasingly important factor in expanding a brand’s reach. Entertaining videos can also strengthen customer retention, as evidenced by the success of MikMak, an app that streams humorous “minimercials” and has seen 2.5x the retention of average mobile commerce.

Less than a year old, MikMak already boasts over 75 brands on its platform and considers itself “an entertaining company first that happens to sell things.” Mr. Disney would be proud.

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