Engagement or entertainment? It’s a false dichotomy

I was flicking through my Flipboard the other day and came across the following headline: “Memo to Online Ads: Nix the engagement and focus on entertainment”.

Naturally, I found this headline interesting. After all, “engaging with customers” is pretty much the holy grail of marketing. End your one-way advertising and start having a conversation with your consumers. Move away from the frequency and consistency model of marketing by thinking about transmedia storytelling.

Whichever way you slice and dice it, most modern marketers will tell you it’s all about engagement.

So an article headline telling me to stop engaging and start entertaining certainly grabbed my attention.

To be fair to Erika Morphy, the contributor, the headline made it clear that the article was about online ads, rather than marketing in general. Still, I wanted to read more.

Erika’s central point was that online ads which concentrate on moving the consumer from device to device (e.g. from the smartphone on their way to work to their desktop/laptop at the office) don’t work.

Instead, we should use online ads to entertain. She went on to cite the latest Old Spice YouTube piece starring Terry Crews and his musical muscles as a prime example of “entertaining” content. She tells us that this “online ad” is “entertaining” rather than “engaging”.

You can see the video here.

I got really confused by this.

Yes, the video is engaging. No, it isn’t an “online ad” (that would be a banner or skyscraper). Yes, we should try to entertain people online. No, that doesn’t mean we stop engaging with them (the Old Spice video is on YouTube, where viewers are engaged by being able to comment on it). Yes, of course we should try to move people from touchpoint to touchpoint. No, that doesn’t preclude using entertaining content to do so.

As I said in my post on customer touchpoints, an entertaining TV spot can easily move you to some more entertaining or informative content online, which can push you to a Facebook page, an eCommerce site or a data-collection mechanism.

Morphy’s article misses the point of online marketing, which seeks to engage, enthuse and entertain an audience across multiple devices and platforms. My desire here is not to disparage the Forbes article, but to try to clarify that engagement and entertainment are not mutually exclusive – and indeed are a central part of a multi-channel marketing strategy, as practiced by most successful brands.

Coca-Cola’s vice-president of global advertising strategy and creative excellence, Jonathan Mildenhall, explains this much better than I do in his Content 2020 video on YouTube. And if it’s good enough for Coca-Cola, it’s good enough for me!

Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.


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