Everything counts as ‘entertainment’ today. From mobile gaming to e-sports, branded content and new realities in tech, there’s no telling where the entertainment industry will go. And it continues to evolve. So how are brands taking to entertainment marketing? The Drum invited members of The Drum Network to a roundtable discussion to explore the trends and technologies reshaping entertainment marketing.
Brands are increasingly producing entertainment content, causing the rules around entertainment to change. Having recognised that this sector can engage audiences more intensely than traditional methods like paid-for media or three-second social posts, brands are smartening up their acts and focusing on “persona marketing” – according to Contented co-founder Moz Dee, who along with other participants around the table agree that no longer is entertainment limited to music, cinema or TV but that data is critical in identifying the audience’s need and teaching marketers how to reach them.
The roundtable, moderated by The Drum associate editor Sonoo Singh, highlighted the importance of brand authenticity and taking risks when creating content.
Nick Ward, joint planning partner, Cubo
Fiona Meynell, digital strategy lead, Think Jam
Moz Dee, co-founder, Contented
Adam Rubins, CEO, Way To Blue
Ed Leech, senior account director, Cherry London
Richard Marshall, co-CEO, Influence Digital
The power of partnerships and authenticity
While most of the media that brands are buying (up to 80%) isn’t being seen by their target audience, Way To Blue chief executive, Adam Rubins, suggests brand owners “create content that’s connected with entertainment brands or entertaining content that can be used on other platforms” to widen their reach.
While entertainment might be the new and exciting frontier, many clients aren’t prioritising entertainment budgets just yet. Instead, they’re looking for innovative ways to produce engaging content, such as by interacting with people from different aspects of the industry to talk about creating a format that fits their brand’s persona, he added.
“Brands want to target a particular audience but they don’t have either the capability to reach that audience or the justification to do it,” said Cherry London’s senior account director, Ed Leech. “Sometimes they may feel that they need to borrow credibility from elsewhere, which is where big strategic brand partnerships come in. They can create content with brands that have valuable assets so that they can target their customers in a space they want to reach.” But while most marketers want to enjoy the same level of success as Lego or Marvel, these opportunities aren’t available to all brands.
“It really depends on who the brand is and what they’re trying to achieve,” added Rubins. “Fundamentally, it’s about authenticity – the partnership and opportunity has to feel authentic to that brand, so doing something that’s very commercial isn’t going to work. If you’re after brand awareness or brand affinity, it’s achievable but if it’s about converting sales, then authenticity is key.”
And unfortunately, there’s still a way to go until brands get this absolutely right. “A lot of brands still don’t understand the levels of collaboration that make good partnerships,” said Leech. “They’re willing to do it on the surface but they're not willing to collaborate as deeply as they should do.”
Should entertainment feel like marketing?
So, what should entertainment content look like; should it behave more like traditional marketing or can it be disguised within entertainment?
As streaming platforms continue to evolve and viewers become increasingly comfortable paying to access entertainment, Rubins thinks some marketing fodder should be expected, so long as it matches a viewer’s interests. He reckons Netflix will lead the charge once they increase their package price and move towards an advertising model. “They have a very personalised data-led approach,” he said. “They advertise things you want to see and buy. I’m ok with that; but once I'm being advertised to about things I'm not interested in, then it becomes obstructive.”
Netflix’s docuseries, Juventus, about an Italian football club, is a case in point. Dee said, “It’s a marketing film. It’s a piece of content that I'm being recommended, that Netflix knows I’ll enjoy, yet it’s paid for by a football club to market itself across the globe. I think we'll start to get films made this way. They’ll be targeted but as long as brands make something substantial and entertaining, why wouldn’t we watch it? That’s where the monetisation model is interesting; it could open doors for us all to explore.”
All the attendees agreed that viewers didn’t mind being confronted by a brand in a piece of content if it made sense contextually. Consider James Bond’s Mercedes Benz or his Omega watch.
But convincing marketers to fully invest in entertainment can be testing as “it requires them to be brave; to do something that takes the focus away from the brand,” added Dee. “It’s about taking it out of the brand ecosystem and sticking it in another world to see what happens. And we're very much still at the start of that journey.”
And of course, just because marketers can, doesn’t mean they always should. For instance, he questions the instance where HSBC recently announced the launch of its first sound identity created by electronic music producer Jean-Michel Jarre. “For me, the partnership didn’t match up,” he said. “Are they being brave for doing something different or will they look back on it and say, ‘we tried, but it didn't work’? I wonder if you can go too far in creating a brand persona…”
Think Jam’s digital strategy lead, Fiona Meynell agrees, although she thinks that ultimately, partnerships don’t have to be “too well” matched. She thinks that if, for instance, branding in a successful film were discreet the audience will fail to take much notice who’s behind it.
Creating standout content that cuts through is key. Yet brands are increasingly competing with younger and more risk-averse generations, who can create content – and monetise it – seemingly effortlessly.
Few brands are prepared to take the risks needed to keep up. “Fear is the number one stumbling block to creativity,” said Rubins. “I don't believe there’s a winning formula to creating content. A Fortnight or Deadpool only comes along once every ten years and then suddenly the whole industry wants the same things. You can’t apply that to all brands; it doesn’t work. It’s got to be relevant.”
Working out the ethos of a brand will help marketers get to grips with its philosophical standpoint. Influence Digital, co-CEO, Marshall mentions his client, the Barcelona-based festival Primavera, which boasts a gender-neutral line-up for its 19th rendition this year, a rarity for the music industry.
Taking these sorts of risks will position brands in a favourable light with consumers and make them more memorable and likeable.
“But it has to be a full commitment from every fibre of the client that this is the route they want to take,” said Dee. “Deliberately saying what their brand values are and what they stand for has to a total global commitment from a business.”
Understanding consumer habits
And equally, considering where to place that watchable piece of content is just as important. According to Cubo’s joint planning partner Nick Ward, “What makes me quite sad is that brands will team up with a decent cultural partner and then they just plonk the end piece on their own page where no one looks. Internally, the conversation concludes that the content didn't work, but we need to think authentically about how people consume content in the first place.”
Investing media spend across different platforms is crucial, but it requires working out together how that content will work, from conception through to distribution. “At the moment, it feels tactical rather than a fundamental attitude,” said Rubins. “You create these things and someone will have a bright idea - like committing to entertainment - but it’s very siloed within most organisations. You need to put the full weight of the business behind it.”
Whatever the format, there’s always room to create interesting content around entertainment. Perhaps a podcast could be constructed around a documentary for instance. These assets will form a 360 approach on top of the traditional media to appeal to different audiences, said Rubins. Meynell agrees. Even if marketers don’t have access to the content from the get-go, they can still promote their entertainment. “If you’re trying to do a launch without any assets at all, make a brand experience around it,” she said. “Look to Disney. They make content out of kids and grandkids reacting to their trailers or they produce DIYs on how to make a mask from the next marvel film. It’s about thinking outside the box to make new content that’s entertaining or informative.”
The future of entertainment
New technologies like AR and VR have undoubtedly pushed the entertainment space forward. Yet some participants question whether a cultural pushback to our excessive use of data is inevitable.
“It will be really interesting to see how brands and businesses deal with this growing feeling of hesitation,” said Ward. “But it’s not necessarily a bad thing for brands to respond to consumer reactions. They just tend to be quite slow at picking up on cultural trends.”
Media and entertainment companies meanwhile are at the center of disruption, driven by the inception of new technologies and changing consumer attitudes. So, what should be the priorities for marketers and how should they respond to these changes? Rubins concluded, “It’s quite ironic; we’re moving towards a more collective community feel when actually politically, we’re separating. I think it’s a bit of a reaction to that. People are coming closer together; they want to collaborate; they want to create a model that works for the collective whole rather than for each individual part. We're going to see a huge amount more consolidation in the entertainment market as well, more businesses will buy other businesses; more agencies will buy other agencies.
“There’s never been a better time to invest in entertainment for audiences to emotionally invest in.”
This roundtable discussion feature originally appeared in The Drum Network's recent Entertainment special publication. To find out more about how The Drum Network can help boost the profile of your agency, click here.