Great advertising is great because it creatively accomplishes its mission of selling products or services. Perhaps the holy grail of advertising is when the commercial is so creative and influential that it becomes content. Commercials have been becoming content ever since the first advertisement was ever displayed. If Bill sees Randy’s shingle hanging out in front of his new store and brings it up in a conversation with George, the commercial has now become content.
Commercials becoming content can happen in any number of ways. The possibilities are endless. As Claire Suddath explains (“Gotcha!” Bloomberg Businessweek, 1/6/14–1/12/14, pp. 59–61):
“Because people now watch shows online and through DVRs, they’ve learned to avoid commercials, making it harder for advertisers to get their attention. But if a business can somehow get its message to be part of the actual TV program—maybe have its own segment on Good Morning America or get talked about on CNN—then it’s not a commercial anymore, it’s ‘content.’” (p. 60)
At the most fundamental level, commercials becoming content means the brand has deepened. What may once have been confined to the billboard, the 30-second TV spot, or a magazine ad, has now injected itself into our conversation, experience, and consciousness. For that to happen, the message must strike a deep human chord. One example is, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony . . . .”
Theme universality is needed for a meme to go viral, and thereby become content. Writing in Scientific American about research at Indiana University Bloomington, John Matson identifies the need for recognizing the universality of certain themes (“What It Means to Go Viral” January 2014, p. 84):
“The meme must have broad appeal, so it can spread not just within communities of like-minded individuals but can leap from one community to the next.”
The broader the appeal, the higher the propensity for intercommunity leaps. The narrower the appeal, the lower the propensity for intercommunity leaps. It is the advertiser’s call.
So exactly how many advertisers are hitting this holy grail? Just do a random audit of your consciousness stream. You might find more holy grail examples there than you would have thought.