The line between advertising & content continues to blur

We’re moving into a world where content marketing is, on the one hand, supplanting traditional advertising. We’re somewhat forced to- offline commercials can be fast-forwarded, online they can be blocked, or ignored.

At least online we have the worlds of advertising and content melding into each other, with sponsored content and paid social distribution and placement. Even offline you have product placement within shows, though TV and film hardly has a monopoly on the concept.

You could even argue that shows like House of Cards are advertising for Netflix.

I mean really, isn’t the show one of the top reasons to have Netflix? Even the way it’s released promotes the season-binge, a style of watching a show started by TV marathons of a previous season, and elevated to pop culture mainstay by the streaming service Netflix offers.

And yet, even with that exception, we’re still at the point where the most direct path to clicks and wallets is to pay for attention from a place where the audience already exists.

After many conversations with people from millennial to boomers, I wonder how long we’re going to remain in the current stage, and what the paid option for ears and eyeballs will look like in the next five years.

“Auntie, can you make me a commercial?”

My four year old nephew is an extremely intelligent young man.

Let me give you a little background. Both his parents have genius IQs. It’s something that kind of runs in our family but both my younger sisters are smarter than me.

My youngest sister? Yikes. She’s the one that has the two sets of twins, one of which is the nephew in question, and her IQ is a good 60 points higher than mine. I also test genius- but she should be in Mensa or something.

Her kids have also spent the last three years being educated abroad, despite being American citizens. They are more advanced in every learning system.

So the wildest things come out of their mouths, sometimes funny things, other times insightful or even profound. To me, the experience we had recently was all of the above.

Now, I can’t remember what the conversation we were having started out as. I know he wanted me to play with him, to participate in some kind of activity. But it was the part of Sunday where the kids wind down in their play area while the adults chat, relax or watch TV.

So I had to deny whatever request he had, in the interest of him not seeing any of the adult programming that was on pause, and of course, the adults continuing to watch it after he was gone.

“Go downstairs and play, Sammy.” I gave him a little nuzzle and released him.

“Okay Auntie, but first can you give me a commercial?” I thought he meant to physically give him one, so I was confused.

“I’d like to, but how?”

“Make me a movie of a thing I don’t have and don’t want.”

That’s Sammy’s hand in the picture, lifting his toy off my lap to go and play downstairs.

I don’t have anything conclusive to say about that at the moment. But it does make me wonder what the future holds. We’re in a world where the youngest generations don’t see ads as those who recall the 90s as their heyday do.

If commercials are universally hated, why is the new model so similar?


Kids, teenagers, college students- they’ve all at least partially grown up in a world where the ad is something you skip, not a necessary sometimes-evil sometimes-art-form that must be endured for the reward of free content.

As this world continues to be turned on its head, we’re seeing more organically created content marketED, but then also turned into marketING.

Some say it’s working- as in the case of, say, Outbrain headlines or sponsored content that’s developed by a publication, in concert with a brand that intimately knows what it’s audience wants.

Even sponsored stories in Facebook are passable- we’re already seeing unwanted items in our stream from friends or “friends”- might as well get both wanted/and unwanted content in the stream from companies.

Especially if it keeps our favorite toy free.

And yet we’re already hearing voices that cry foul– feeling that they are still being interrupted – and also deceived– by content out of context.

We’ve gotten the first part right- with content marketing, we’re moving toward being the thing that interrupts people, and we’re becoming interesting.

But if even if we’re interesting, if we interrupt with our awesome at the wrong time- isn’t that still interruption-based advertising?


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