June 27, 2016

The Diminishing Line Between Advertising and Entertainment

By: Sean Flavin | Marketing Communications Specialist

For fans, advertising is a familiar element in American sports. Watch a game on TV and you’ll notice every break in the action has a sponsor (commercial breaks, timeouts, exciting plays, etc.). Check out a game in person and you’re inundated with advertising messages littered across every free piece of real estate in the stadium.

Advertising is more ubiquitous in some sports than others. MLS players sport jerseys with logos for major brands. PGA golfers are strategically outfitted with clothing, clubs and balls from sponsors. In NASCAR, cars and drivers suits are both plastered with brand logos; so much so that this clip barely seems like a joke.


There has been some advertising sanctuary in the four major U.S. leagues, though. Game broadcasts and team arenas are still covered with ads, but the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have all resisted the urge to allow ads on the field of play.

But not for much longer.

native advertising blog-sports logo imageIn 2017-18, the NBA will start allowing teams to advertise on the jerseys. The Philadelphia 76ers are the first team to announce such a deal, selling away a small patch of their uniforms to the ticket company StubHub for a reported $5 million per year.

By bringing advertising on the court, the NBA is blurring the line separating where entertainment ends and where advertising begins. And the trend is not unique to sports, the line between entertainment and advertising is diminishing in a variety of ways.

Live from New York, it’s [insert brand name here]

TV audiences used to bring a degree of certainty and structure. To watch a show, audiences had to tune in at a specific time for a set amount of time. Not anymore. Netflix, Hulu and DVR technologies have offered viewers the opportunity to consume programs when they want, for as long as they want. This freedom has introduced us to terms like “binge watching” and “Netflix and chill,” it’s also increased an audience’s ability to avoid ads.

Media and entertainment entities aware of this change in viewer behavior have started to adjust their programming accordingly. To make the show more viewer friendly, Saturday Night Live will drop two commercial breaks per episode next season. This equates to 30 percent fewer ads for NBC’s SNL, a drop the network will make up for by allowing advertisers to partner with the show to create branded content to run during the broadcast.

SNL has a long history of commercial parody, featuring fake spots for a bank whose only function is to give people change, a fake J.C. Penney ad for Mom jeans and a bunch of products not quite PG enough to mention here. It’ll be interesting to see how SNL handles the transition from satirical advertising to producing content meant to promote a brand.

Super Influencers

The rise of social media has provided brands a new type of spokesperson. A group of “experts” known as social media influencers. Traditionally, influencers have been subject-matter experts (e.g., academics, experienced professionals, etc.) or legitimate celebrities (e.g., musicians and actors). Social influencers, on the other hand, have fewer prerequisites. These influencers only need to create digital content that attracts a substantial number of followers.

Here’s where the line between entertainment and advertising blurs in the social influencer world. Brands often pay these influencers to help them connect with consumers by integrating product promotion into their content. The process presents a number of risks for brands, though. A report by Digiday highlighted four persistent pain points with social influencers, the most notable of which being high cost.

For “super social influencers,” the cost can be as much as $100,000 per video produced. Including for influencers like Logan Paul, an actor who rose to fame based off his 6-second Vine videos which have attracted more than nine million followers.

Paul is a great example of how social media has changed the level of talent, knowledge and skill required to be an influencer. Outside of his Vine popularity, Paul doesn’t have much of an acting resume (unless you count a turn on Law & Order: SVU role as a crazed kidnapper), certainly not one that would command almost $17,000 per second of video.

Brands as Entertainers

So far we’ve covered how entertainers are producing branded content, but that’s only half the story. Brands are increasingly becoming content creators themselves, embracing native advertising strategies intended to seamlessly blend with regular content.

A prominent example of this is PepsiCo. Rather than outsourcing content production, PepsiCo has decided to bring everything in-house. The beverage maker recently opened a state-of-the-art content studio in New York. PepsiCo will use the 4,000-square-foot space to produce “branded content while also pursuing distribution deals with film studios, online publishers and other outlets for brand-agnostic content,” according to AdvertisingAge.

PepsiCo is just one of many brands developing and distributing original content to engage audiences. As the way audiences consume entertainment changes, the way brands connect with those audiences is also changing. As PepsiCo’s President Brad Jakeman puts it in an article by The Wall Street Journal: “Over time, advertising has gained the reputation of pollution content… We have to now create content that consumers want to watch.”

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Sean-FlavinSean Flavin is a Marketing Communication Specialist at Marquette Group with a background in both journalism and search engine optimization. He is the managing editor of Marquette Group’s blog and a regular contributor. Follow him on Twitter for updates in the digital marketing industry.

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