The holy grail of social advertising is not to sell, but to entertain

I must admit to somewhat loathing the barrage of Top 10 lists that populate the interwebs this time of year. But the end of the year does undeniably provide a good canvas for reflection and perspective on what worked on the web, what didn’t and what may be on the cusp of having a big impact in the coming new year.

To say that social advertising or ‘social ads’ were a big deal in 2010 is an understatement to the point where it is almost becoming redundant to give it a special ad label. The goal of almost all advertising today is to get people to interact, engage and share your brand messaging. But just how big is social advertising? Like most things, it all depends on context. Without thinking I bet most folks who read this blog could probably guess which social ad campaign was the biggest in 2010. I don’t smell like him, I don’t look like him and I’ve never bought the product, but I certainly saw plenty of Old Spice guy Isaiah Mustafa this year. To the tune of 68 million+ viral video views, Old Spice was the social advertising king of 2010.

But for all of the online traction that Old Spice received with their inventive video response YouTube campaign, I was somewhat surprised to learn how significantly the top social ad campaign was dwarfed in comparison to video game and movie trailers. When you factor in ‘Entertainment’, the top social ad campaign barely makes the Top 10 of 2010 Viral Ad Views according to AdAge:

1. Twilight Saga: Eclipse – 220 million views (movie)

2. The Karate Kid – 170 million views (movie)

3. Step Up 3D – 138 million views (movie)

4. Toy Story 3 – 129 million views (movie)

5. Call Of Duty: Black Ops – 110 million views (video game)

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: 109 million views (movie)

7. Alice in Wonderland: 86 million views (movie)

8. Halo: Reach – 74 million views (video game)

9. Iron Man 2 – 73 million views (movie)

10. Old Spice: Responses – 68 million views (social ad)

As consumers continue to gain more power and control over what messages they are exposed to, it is increasingly paramount for marketers to challenge the very definitions of what is considered advertising. Ultimately this means marketing must continue to bleed further into the realm of entertainment because if consumers don’t find your marketing engaging and compelling, if they don’t *want* to watch, they will tune your messaging out.

The Old Spice campaign was brilliant because it was a great mix of cultural, economic and creative energy that resulted in a unique and entertaining concept that challenged our assumptions of what an advertising campaign was. As we embark on a new year, it will be interesting to see which social advertising campaigns in 2011 are most able to transcend the traditional walls of advertising, and entertain us.

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