May 21st, 2008

Advertainment: More than Sex and the City Cosmos

By Press Release: AUT University

Advertainment: more insidious than cosmos in Sex and the City

Sex and the City has been credited with the renaissance of the cosmopolitan martini but, says AUT University Professor Cristel Antonia Russell, its influence extends much further than that.

Professor Russell, who has researched the world of advertainment and its implications for consumers, says audiences aspire to the often unrealistic lifestyles portrayed in their favourite shows, and this can have damaging societal consequences.

Advertainment blurs the line between entertainment and paid advertising, she says, and the US industry spend is forecast to reach more than US$14 billion by 2010 on product placements alone.

Advertainment includes product placement – where a brand is intentionally and strategically placed in a show, product integration – where a product becomes part of the plot, and branded entertainment – where the entertainment is actually produced specifically to promote a brand.

“Advertainment has found its way into books, movies and television with a new generation being captured through video and computer games,” says Professor Russell. “And its growth is continuing to outpace that of traditional advertising.”

In her inaugural professorial address being held today at AUT, Professor Russell will draw from over ten years of consumer research in this area and discuss Advertainment: Fusing Advertising and Entertainment.

The demise of the 30 second television commercial in the US – when easy to use DVD recorders like TiVo enabled audiences to skip commercial breaks – meant advertisers sought a new way into consumers’ pockets, says Professor Russell.

“On-screen brands add credibility and realism to sets, and if it’s not one brand, then it will be another.”

But, says Professor Russell, the irony is that this – so far – unregulated industry has become increasingly cluttered.

“Television programmes are now riddled with images of what the ‘real world’ is supposed to look like – expensive cars, big houses and beautiful people,” she says. “It’s an unrealistic lifestyle and I have asked, what are the implications of this?”
She has found that unobtrusive product placement creates a non-conscious shift and change in perception.

“Advertisers have discovered people don’t like being advertised to so they have made their messages more subtle. And they have found that the subtle messages can affect people as well.”

“When people see an obvious attempt at persuasion their natural tendency is to become defensive,” she adds. “Some commentators found Coke’s aggressive participation in American Idol insulting to the viewer and said it was “crass and inappropriately overt”, she says.

Alcohol companies in the US are some of the biggest advertainers, adds Professor Russell.

“They often use product placement and other branded entertainment vehicles to get around strict regulations in the US about where and to whom they can promote their products. Because these under-the-radar practices have the potential to deceive, I have investigated the impact of warnings in advance of viewing to see how people react.”

Professor Russell says the research results show this is not always straightforward.

“Many viewers, especially those who are very connected to the programs and characters, discount the warnings and in the end, the advertainment message is just as persuasive. she adds.

Audience connectedness is an important factor in understanding the impact of advertainment messages. Professor Russell conducted numerous studies to document the antecedents and consequences of connectedness. Because the Nielsen ratings focus on the size of the television audience, she created a scale to measure audience connectedness, which reflects the quality of the audience, how much they relate to the television characters and think of them as “real”.

She found that in general women tend to become more connected to television characters. As a result, they are also more vulnerable to advertainment messages.

“Audiences mostly likely to be affected by advertainment are those highly connected to the characters,” says Professor Russell. “Women are more connected because of they more easily empathise with the characters and their situations.”

Professor Russell believes academics must do research to protect consumers’ interests and benefit society.

“My projects are guided by the need to document the effects of hidden types of advertising and to find ways to inform consumers and protect the sanctity of what they view as entertainment.”

Professor Russell has received research funding through the Procter & Gamble Marketing Innovation Award, the Marketing Science Institute and the US National Institute of Health.


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