It seems advertising has gone from straightforward, media-driven jib-jab to a cunning, amorphous entertainment of sorts.  What once was a slap-over-the-head “BUY THIS NOW!” message has transformed into a gentle, suggestive whisper in the ear.

The Old:

Floating Head

And yes, disembodied heads were nearly mandatory back then.

The New:

Epic Guy

Head now firmly attached.  And angry!

I’ll explain, but first let’s back things up.

Cut to my local grocery store in suburban Cleveland.

Every time I walk through the front doors, I see two massive endcaps: one for Great Lakes Brewing Company and the other for Red Bull.  Every time I walk past the displays, I think to myself, “man, I should pick up some Red Bull Zero.  I need some caffeine in the morning but I don’t want to stain my teeth, and I like that I can now get that without carbs or sugar.”  “Yes,” I say to myself, “I totally need to buy that.”

But when decision time comes, of course I reach for a sixer of Commodore Perry instead: abandoning my plans of future workplace productivity for present comfort and deliciousness.

It happens every time.  I have the desire to buy Red Bull, I have the intention, but I can’t do it.

Then cut to a few weeks ago.  A new music video pops up on facebook from one of my all-time favorite bands.  I watch it, share it, and go about my normal day.

When I go home I’m back to the grocery store, back to staring down the two tempting endcaps, and back to making my same irrational decision again.  Right?

Not this time.

Somehow, for some reason, I went ahead and bought the Red Bull.  It was time to make the right decision.

A few hours later it dawned on me that I’d been had.

“Dude, just get to the point.”

The point is that Red Bull paid for the music video.  It was uploaded by RedBullMusic, but maybe you didn’t know that.  There are a few quick frames of a guy drinking a Red Bull in the background of one brief scene in the video, but you kind of have to be looking for it to catch it.  It’s a subtle piece of branded entertainment.

One that got me to finally make a purchase.

Watching that video subtly put Red Bull at the top of my mind, and guided my hand to purchase their product.  And while we love to laud online analytics and track clickthrough rates and applaud ourselves over the number of conversions we complete, sometimes advertising works in magical ways that just can’t be measured.

A number of entertaining things making the rounds online are really just subtle advertisements.

Uncle Drew?

Advertising.

The Subservient Chicken?

Advertising.

That cool Lego brain teaser?

Lego Teaser

Advertising.

So instead of sticking a megaphone next to your ear saying, “hey buy this product because the product is good and you’ll have a better more enjoyable life if you buy our product and our product is just what the doctor ordered so buy our product today”, companies are opting for a softer sell, saying something more like, “hey, here’s a thing to have fun with and enjoy.  Check it out.  If you appreciate it, check out our products, too.  If not, no biggie.”

And while the soft sell may not have the numbers or fancy analytics to back it up, it is certainly working.

Stuff like this still never works, though.

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