If it promotes like an ad and is paid for like an ad, then why isn't it an ad?
Marketers are trying to distance themselves from the notion that they make commercials as they embrace content marketing to better engage targets, break through clutter and avoid being skipped by consumers.
With more advertisers crafting ornate video that lasts longer than 30 seconds or trying to ape lavish production values of the programs they interrupt, there's more of an insistence that this isn't advertising, but content as good as anything available on ABC or CBS.
Consider: In October, Target and Neiman Marcus announced that "in lieu of broadcast commercials" they would work with the creators of ABC's "Revenge" to develop "five-part vignettes." "The Gift of Revenge" spots showcased a limited-edition holiday collection from Target and Neiman Marcus. It was billed as a groundbreaking "show-within-a-show complete with its own plot full of twists and turns" in a press release.
Likewise, Pepsi shied away from using the c-word in describing its Super Bowl spot that will serve as an introduction to the halftime show the brand is sponsoring. Though Pepsi is encouraging consumers to submit photos of themselves in specific poses that will be stitched together into a 30-second spot by agency Mekanism, "I wouldn't call it a commercial," said Angelique Krembs, VP-marketing for trademark Pepsi. "We could have used it to have a one-way communication of the product. We're not doing that."
The idea is that the unique approach to Super Bowl ad time -- the brand worked closely with the NFL and CBS -- creates a dialogue and helps the multimillion-dollar outlay work harder. The cost for a Super Bowl spot this year is between $3.7 million and $3.8 million.
But while such messages may well get better traction an engagement than the traditional 30-second spot, the fact remains they are pitches -- engaging and entertaining, but still pitches. TV viewers don't tune in to ABC to see a promotional message from Target and Nieman Marcus; they just want to watch "Revenge." And while you can make a strong case that Super Bowl ads are as big a part of the event as the game, Pepsi's commercial is ultimately aimed at selling product.
The bottom line: Consumers know an ad when they see one -- no matter what its creator calls it.