fine line

I was watching what was supposed to be a travel show about Chicago the other day.  The premise was two friends from out-of-town visiting another friend and he would show them some of the best parts of the city.

The drove around some of the landmarks and some of the hidden gems of the city and they did it in a shiny new SUV.  After the second “subtle” view of the SUV it became painfully obvious this was nothing more than a car ad disguised as a travel log.

I showed it to some Chicagoans and they said they had never heard of some of these landmarks and restaurants and that Chicago had better places to offer.

So not only was this a badly disguised advertisement for a car but it didn’t even live up to its premise of being a travel log.

Of course this is not a new form of advertising.  People have been trying to slip in product placements into such shows for ages and it’s not even a new phenomena on the internet.  I ran across this type of advertising about 9 years ago when an American car company ran a series of soap opera type vignettes about some twentysomethings featuring their car.

I have nothing against this sort of advertising as long as it’s done right.  This ad however broke a few cardinal rules.

1. Do what you promise to do.  If you’re going to pose as a travel show then do some travel show research.  If you pretend to be a soap opera then hire some decent writers to write a compelling storyline.  Deliver the value that you promise.

2. Don’t go overboard on the product placement.  Sure the client might want to make every shot feature the product but that’s not how things work.  No one wants to see that.  Work the product into the storyline.  Find a way.  Don’t just shove it in people’s faces.

3. Whatever your method, make it entertaining.  Whether you’re going for funny, suspenseful, sexy, whatever.  You need to treat this as anything but an advertisement.

We are making a transition as a culture away from the old forms of entertainment like TV, radio, and movies onto the internet.  While advertising has made great strides in adapting itself to this new media it still has a way to go to fit the sharper, more mobile, and less attentive audience.

The company that comes up with a working formula that addresses the needs of the internet audience will have a great advantage in the years to come.

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