Information vs entertainment: away win.

I was recently involved in a debate about whether information or entertainment was the most important thing to advertising.

I was on the side of information, but as the debate went on I realised that these are the only two essentials in any ad, in fact any piece of communication.

In its purest form, information tells you something. It might be a reminder of something you already knew or it could be a real eye-opener that changes your thinking 180 degrees. Whichever it is, there is always going to be some form of it in an ad.

There’s obtuse, abstract information that you might find here:

(Budweiser is a good drink to have with your friends or while watching a game of football.)

Or explicit information along these lines:

(Dyson blah blah blah suction blah blah blah etc.)

But information is always there.

However, it can’t exist without entertainment, which in its purest form is diversion: if you don’t notice something, you can’t be informed by it, so it has to catch the eye/ear/brain in some way.

You might consider the Dyson ad to be dull, but if you were ever aware of it then it entertained you to some degree (possibly a very tiny degree, but a degree nonetheless).

This balance was brought to light in the comments section of the yoghurt wars post I put up last week. Dave Trott wrote:

Ben, I appreciate this is a very old skool pov, but forget brand for a minute. Which one tells you anything about why you should put your hand in your pocket (or purse) and actually exchange cash for that (word that’s fallen out of favour) product?

to which I replied:

Dave, To answer your question: YV; Muller is simply branded entertainment.

But then I think it’s difficult to judge either of these as conduits for persuasion or information, rather than just diversion. I hear Yeo Valley’s words and accept that, as they are organic, they farm in the right way. So far, so exactly what I thought before the ad. Muller tells me nothing, but then we all know it’s low quality yoghurt with a corner of chocolate balls or jam, so I would have been insulted if they tried to suggest there was anything more to it. They have a shit product and that means they have no choice but to try to distract us from that fact. Lipstick on a pig, innit?

The odd thing for me about Yeo Valley is that they add so much ‘entertainment’ to their communication that it almost gets drowned in the bullshit. They have something good to say, but seem to feel that it’s not enough, that they must put lipstick on something that’s already very attractive.

It then struck me that in these days of homogeneity of product, multiplicity of media channels/messages and reduced attention spans, entertainment will always win out. Hardly anyone has anything worth saying, and even if they did, the need to cut through is keenly felt. So you tell people your dairy products are well made but you do it via the medium of a two minute boyband pastiche.

For better or worse I suppose that’s what we’ve come to.