What Type of Content Works Best for Web Video Marketing? Entertainment Vs Message

What Type of Content Works Best for Web Video Marketing? Entertainment Vs Message

Thanks to shows like Mad Men, and to a lesser extent Bewitched, many people think being a creative director at a creative agency involves sitting around all day thinking up incredibly entertaining ideas and pitching them to 3 martini lunch-soaked clients in a swirling haze of cigar smoke and laughter. Or, they think that being a creative director at an online video marketing agency involves sitting around all day thinking up incredibly bizarre and shocking video ideas that involve cute cats, dancing babies, 20-something YouTube stars or a blend(tec) of all three being kicked in the crotch on the way home from the dentist.

While there is some of that, most of my time is spent balancing creative ideas with marketing reality, funny with brand awareness, entertainment value with product recall. This balancing act has led me to the theory that the entertainment value of an online video is inversely proportional to the video's message value. The key to creating a video that delivers on both and produces a good ROI is in determining how much of one to keep and how much of the other to sacrifice and determining the right presentation of both.

Videos that are most aggressively spread via video sharing, blogs and social networking, and typically earn the most views, are the ones that have no brand attachment or message at all. These videos have 100% entertainment value. Videos that are least aggressively spread have the most blatant brand attachment or product message but are the clearest in their delivery. These videos have 100% message value. Often these are repurposed TV ads or online ads made to feel like TV ads.

Online Video Marketing vs TV Ads

Most people like to be entertained and most people don't like to be sold to. This is one of the arenas in which the battle between traditional TV ads and online video marketing takes place. TV ads go from 60 seconds of squirm-for-the-remote 100% pure marketing message to 30 seconds of laugh-out-loud-what-were-they-selling 95% entertainment and everything in between. The difference is that on TV, the viewer can fast forward through and never look back or continue watching and not remember to act on whatever that call to action was that the ad called him or her to act on because he or she can't remember, or never knew, what the message was. With online video, we have the ability to go heavier on the entertainment value and create calls to action that can be placed anywhere within or outside the video and acted upon immediately including options to click a link, visit a Facebook page, watch another video or buy now! Online video also presents the opportunity to integrate marketing messages within a wide variety of formats including web series, short ads, short films, viral videos and interactive videos.

So What's A Marketer To Do?

First, know thy product or service as thyself and determine a primary demographic audience. (HINT: this will be the audience that will be most receptive to your message). Second, know thy audience as thyself and determine what they are most entertained by. Third, take out your tightrope shoes and balance pole and start walking.

Step One:

Starting with your primary, hardcore audience, lay down equal parts message value and entertainment value. This could be a very entertaining premise wrapped in a brand message or vice versa - a brand message wrapped in a very entertaining premise. How entertaining is the product or service to begin with? How easily entertained is your audience and by what?

Step Two:

Move on to your secondary audience and beyond by cranking up the entertainment value just a bit while maintaining a solid marketing message. As you widen the audience, keep turning down the marketing message until you have a video that is super entertaining but with a clear take-away message. Conversely, if you want to stay within a narrow audience, you can lean a little heavier on the message.

Step Three:

Determine how to best combine and present the two elements online, for instance:

  • Make the message the entertainment: In the Coca-Cola Happiness Machine video, the Coke machine literally represents happiness and the message. The hidden camera approach and unsuspecting people offer the entertainment value. In THQ's Truth or Lies video game webisodes we see a group of friends having fun and being entertaining playing the game.
  • Make the brand part of the entertainment: This Red Bull video says it all. This can be a very successful formula since the viewer is visually engaged with the brand throughout the video and entertained at the same time.
  • Keep the brand a mystery: Walk on Water (Liquid Mountaineering) This can be a risky strategy but done well, viewers will go Sherlock Holmes on your brand. (Spoiler alert, the brand is Hi-Tec).
  • Make the entertaining situation in some way related to the brand message: Make the relationship pay off only at the end as in this Cute Girl Has Catchy Dance video from Samsung. This approach is successful because of the clear separation between the entertainment value and the sell making the video highly shareable.
  • Use an interactive approach: In the Halo: Reach Walmart Smack Talk series viewers get to select which ending they want to see.
  • Make the video so ridiculously funny: that nobody cares how heavy the branding is even when it's a repurposed TV spot that's part of a larger TV campaign like this boorish gem from GEICO.

High Message Value vs. High Entertainment Value

Below is a list of pros and cons for a high message value vs high entertainment value approach to creating a successful online video campaign.

High Message Value


  • Viewers know exactly what you are selling
  • Video will appeal to a more targeted demographic
  • Video will resonate with relevant viewers
  • Viewers are aware of your call to action


  • Video may not reach as many people organically
  • Video may be perceived as too "salesy”
  • Viewers may not pass along or talk about your video
  • You may spend more viral seeding and social media buys
  • Video may appeal to a smaller demographic

High Entertainment Value


  • Viewers will pass along your video organically
  • Viewers will talk about your video
  • Viewers will remember your video
  • Audiences will come back for more
  • You will spend less on viral seeding and social media buys
  • Video will appeal to a larger audience


  • Viewers may not remember what your video was selling
  • Viewers may not talk about your brand or product
  • Video will appeal to a wider but less targeted audience
  • Viewers may not recognize a clear call to action
  • Viewers may not take the desired next action

Have Fun and Go With Your Gut

So now that I've sucked all the fun out of creating videos and reduced the process to a mathematical relationship, go watch some YouTube videos, study what's working and what's not and go with your gut. Just keep what I wrote in mind as you do.

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About the Author -
David Murdico is the Executive Creative Director and Managing Partner with Supercool Creative, a Los Angeles based viral marketing agency specializing in online video creative, production, viral and social media marketing for brands including THQ, T-Mobile and IBM. In addition to a self-admitted obsession with viral marketing, David has worked as a commercial spot director, TV comedy writer, sketch writer and commercial art director. David's Twitter is @DavidMurdico. View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • Kayser

    Hi David,

    Great article, hope you do a online video version soon.

    We've been grappling with entertainment vs message and have begun a series of videos trying to balance the two; www.filim.co.uk, your feedback will be much appreciated.

    We've got a few more going up later this month which will push the entertainment value up a few notch as we get into our stride.

    Take care.


    • https://twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

      Kayser, well done on the video on your homepage. Your studio looks nice as well. I'll have to visit sometime.


  • Paul Trout

    Hey David,

    Great headline and content - caught my eye right away. We struggled with finding the right balance, but resorted to embedding the message within familiar nostalgic entertainment: 80s lyrics. As is all marketing - half logic, half art. Hope we got the balance right! Here it is: http://bit.ly/9V4HKl

    Keep up the great work and thanks for the read,


  • https://twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

    Thanks for the comment and input Nick. Go ahead and rant away!
    Lotus Foundations is a small business software and hardware appliance (software and server) from IBM. Here's a link to the HD version that explains a little more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLLvpNRxo6E

  • http://nickkellet.com/ Nick Kellet

    I was excited when I read the heading "High Message Value vs. High Entertainment Value"

    Finally someone who gets that video is not just for entertaining! Smart. Yes Video can be used for business communication;

    - to deliver value & to deliver you message (they aren't the same)
    - to grow audience attention and engagement times

    Eureka! You had 200% of my attention, then you lost me (a bit).

    Not sure I agree with your contrast of Pros & Cons, but heck it's a good start, so thanks for that. I'll hold back from a full rant. I liked your IBM ad, but what is Lotus Foundation?

  • https://twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

    I'll round up the cats and babies... time to get the cameras and start rolling...

  • http://www.reelseo.com/ Mark Robertson

    "incredibly bizarre and shocking video ideas that involve cute cats, dancing babies, 20-something YouTube stars or a blend(tec) of all three being kicked in the crotch on the way home from the dentist."

    Now that would be a great viral video