An advertisement for a trip to Hawaii in 2022

One of the best new ads isn’t on TV, and it isn’t in a magazine. It’s not on the radio, and it’s not an Internet pop-up. No, it’s a four-minute film short starring Jerry Seinfeld and Superman—and it’s available only on the Web.

This “webisode,” called “A Uniform Used to Mean Something,” hit the Internet March 29 as part of a new ad campaign by American Express. Seinfeld has partnered with the credit card company since 1992.

Seinfeld and Superman appeared together in an American Express Super Bowl ad in 1998, and those involved decided it was time to re-team the comedian and superhero for the Web-only ad. The four-minute short was directed by Oscar-winner Barry Levinson (“Rain Main”) and co-written by Seinfeld.

In it, Seinfeld and Superman play a sort of “odd couple.” They spend the day together in New York; they dine out, attend a musical and discuss reality TV. The theft of Seinfeld’s newly purchased DVD player provides the dramatic thrust—and the opportunity to slip in the American Express theft protection coverage.

The ads are getting significant press.

Lou Lumenick, in a story for the New York Post, called it “the year’s funniest new movie so far.”

Steve Klein, coordinator of George Mason University’s electronic journalism program, wrote in a posting for the Poynter Institute: “I just spent four minutes — FOUR MINUTES!!! — watching an ad for the American Express card on the Internet. And I can’t wait for the next one.”

Klein will have to wait another month. The next webisode with Seinfeld and Superman—called “Hindsight is 20/20″—will appear on the American Express site in May.

These ads are an example of a trend that combines advertising with entertainment. The results are known as “advertainment.”

“The forays into what is known as branded entertainment, or advertainment, seek to avoid being perceived as hard-selling hucksterism while appealing to busy, educated, affluent, media-savvy consumers like—well, Mr. Seinfeld—who are watching less TV these days in favor of going online,” according to a New York Times article.

“It’s not just an issue of ratings,” John Hayes, chief marketing officer at American Express, told the Times. He was referring to declining TV ratings in key demographics, like 18-34 year-old males. “It’s about opting in and opting out; we’re trying to create media content where people actually opt in to watch.”

American Express is promoting the webisodes offline with TV commercials, postcards and other traditional forms of PR, according to a company press release.

The webisodes are housed inside a slick interactive experience designed like a New York City apartment—complete with street noise, projector screen and window view of the Empire State Building (with moving clouds in daytime).

An American Express card lies on the coffee table—and is hot-linked to an application.

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

The Seinfeld/Superman webisode is here.

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