What’s the Purpose of Advertising: To Entertain or to Sell?

I used to love the E*Trade commercials with the talking babies. They were cute, clever, and they made me laugh. In fact, every time I see one—regardless of how many times I’ve seen it previously—I laugh. I liked them. They were well done. They had good production values. They were clever.

But, did they work from an advertising standpoint? Hard to say. They made their debut during the 2008 Super Bowl and were retired in 2014 by CEO Paul Idzik who had joined the company in January 2013. He indicated that he felt the company was taking the wrong approach with the ads, and, according to a CNBC article, fired the company’s head of marketing, Nick Utton, along with some other senior execs, and also parted ways with the agency that had created the ads.

While the E*Trade baby made a comeback during Super Bowl 2022, the ads are generally considered entertaining but lacking the ability to do what ads are, or should be, intended to do—sell.

If You Want to Entertain, Go to Hollywood

The point—advertisers need to make sure that their advertising is designed to sell (or, at a minimum, raise awareness/preference), not just entertain. Certainly capturing attention is important. Raising awareness is important, critical in fact, and the primary purpose of most mass media advertising.

But, unless that awareness is at some point converted to real, bottom-line results, these efforts are wasted.

Entertaining ads can generate awareness, and buzz, as the E*Trade baby ads certainly did. That awareness is important for brands. But awareness only takes brands so far. Awareness must be converted to positive purchase decisions.

If You Want to Build a Strong Brand, Create Ads That Drive Demand

Effective advertising raises awareness and drives demand for a product or service. Laughing at an ad doesn’t mean a consumer is poised to purchase. Building a strong brand means using advertising, and other messages, to position that brand relative to competitors in a way that is meaningful and that conveys value to consumers.

If you’re choosing between entertaining or selling, choose selling every time.

You might also do both.

And Yes, You Can Do Both!

I’m not against advertising efforts that entertain. But they must do more than simply entertain—they also must create awareness and preference for a brand. Think of all of the ads you may have found entertaining in your lifetime, but that never resulted in your actually purchasing a product or service.

It’s critical that ads—whether traditional or digital—create awareness for the brand or product, stimulate preference for that brand or product compared to other available alternatives, and, ultimately, drive sales.

If consumers laugh at your ads, but don’t know what you’re selling, or don’t care, your ads aren’t really doing their job.

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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Recommended Reading:

21st Century Secrets to Effective PR

Managing Remote Staff

Direct Mail in the Digital Age

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Strategic Planning

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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