Let Me Entertain You - The Brave New World of Online Advertising

08/06/2012 11:46 BST | Updated 07/08/2012 10:12 BST

Advertising has traditionally always been a one way street - advertiser talks, consumer listens, end of story.

But in an online world where anyone can seek and consume the information they want to - and ignore that which they do not - ad agencies are having to push their creativity ever further in their bid to grab hold of, and interact with, the fickle attention of an internet-savvy consumer.

Technology giant Intel's "Escape" campaign - created by Tribal DDB Hong Kong - is doing exactly that.

The viral ad breaks down the boundaries of what can and can't be done whilst sitting behind a computer screen as the user becomes an agent in a high-octane, James Bond-esque storyline set in a kind of cyberscaped virtual reality.

Using a YouTube page as a portal, the user - led by their very own virtual bond girl - must carry out various different tasks in order to complete the mission. No longer a passive bystander, they are now completely in control of their own virtual destiny and as such, are far more switched on to the brand's message.

I spoke to Tribal DDB's Vice President for Greater China, Eric Phu, to ask about the thinking behind the campaign.

"When it comes to marketing technology these days, it's not enough to just talk in numbers" he told me, "the benefits need to be felt and seen to be truly understood by the typical mass market consumer.

"It continues the trend of advertainment or, marketing messages that entertain and engage the audience in unexpected ways."

This concept is certainly prevalent in the escape campaign, as the boundaries of the page itself begin to break down halfway through the story, giving a matrix-like effect that feels as if the virtual world is jumping out at you through the screen.

But just because a campaign is online and interactive, doesn't mean it must always be set up around a futuristic techno-wonderworld. What works for one brand may not work for another. After all, advertising has never been a one-size-fits-all kind of industry. So what exactly is it that lies on the opposite side of the tech spectrum?

"Draw a Stickman" is a game produced by Kentucky-based agency Hitcents, and has been played by 65 million people worldwide. In it, users are encouraged to (you guessed it...) draw a stickman, who then becomes the animated protagonist in a cartoon story.

After huge viral success, the stickman idea has been translated into an online ad campaign for London HR company Orion, and Hitcents CFO, Ed Mills, told me the key to stickman's success lies in it's simplicity.

"We were going back to basics thinking about the things we could do to show our creativity. We sat round and drew a stickman, made him walk, and it just went from there.

"I think people are gravitating towards simple. Stickman transcends language and it transcends the reasons why people don't get along, because anyone can appreciate it."

It is this individualist idea which is also reflected in many ways throughout the new breed of "advertainment". Numerous interactive campaigns require users to log in through facebook and some, including another Intel ad called "Museum of Me", even use the facebook data to make this personalisation the entire crux of the ad itself.

Surely then the natural progression for the industry, if it is to follow this path to personification and fully integrate the user, lies in the things we carry around with us everywhere - mobile technology.

Eric Phu agrees that the mobile revolution will hit the advertising world very soon, and believes the turning point will be when smart phones outnumber traditional computers.

He said: "It's the first thing people reach for when they wake up, when they are looking for information, and when connecting with other people.

"It's the technology that facilitates the basic human desire to connect, so it's not going away any time soon."

And perhaps that is the way any media shift will gravitate - aping humans being human is surely the best way to appeal to as many people as possible. After all, humans created technology and so, if any online campaign reflects what it is to be human well enough, it must surely be on the right track.

If your consumer wants a product which can push the very boundaries of what humans can achieve - then give them a campaign that does exactly that. Just don't make the mistake of thinking that anyone with a computer is a rampant technophile, because there's at least 65 million people out there who just like to draw stickmen, and watch cartoons.