Entertainment is not a marketing channel—why brands need to adopt a new mindset

But capitalizing on this sea change requires brands to adopt a new entertainment mindset, and to shift from thinking like marketers to thinking like movie moguls. Here are (00)7 lessons for brands that are interested in exploring this brave new world.

See entertainment as a product category, not a marketing channel

Entertainment properties are valuable products with an energetic and established marketplace. When brands approach the creation of entertainment as a new product category, they invariably see better results than approaching it as merely sophisticated marketing. But this requires brands to think like entertainment businesses. They must act as publishers, studios and producers, moving from marketing expenditure to entertainment investment, creating entertainment products that can be sold directly and that will return investment and audience directly to the brand.

Understand your audience and the areas of interest you share

Brands need to begin with understanding who they’re talking to, not just as consumers but as audiences. Understanding what else they’re into and the stories and characters that interest them can give a brand permission to share. Begin with the question “What do they want to hear?” rather than “What do we want to say?”

Storytelling trumps messaging

Entertainment is story, and it is powerful: Tom Cruise playing volleyball sold more Ray-Bans than any advertising message; “Lord Of The Rings” made more people visit New Zealand than any travel ad. To tell other stories a brand first has to understand the point of view it has on the world, then use that as a framework for creating entertainment.

Don’t place products—establish your voice

Understanding their own story liberates brands from the entertainment industry default of product placement. Not all product placement is created equal: If it is not building character, it is just set dressing or worse—a suspension-of-disbelief-detonating distraction. Bond driving a Ford Mondeo jolted viewers out of the story in “Casino Royale” but “Ford v Ferrari” made the brand the protagonist and hero. From Red Bull to “The Lego Movie,” from “A Single Man” to “Alpha Go,” establishing an authorial voice is more powerful than simple screen time.

Build a slate—there are no magic bullets in entertainment

The creation and sale of entertainment properties are as much about what commissioners and studios want to buy as what brands want to sell. For this reason, developing a slate of potential projects that come from the brand’s entertainment framework is a more fruitful approach than pinning all hopes on a single magic bullet.

Be long-term greedy

Creating entertainment takes time, but, when successful these properties persist in culture, build their own audiences, and can deliver long-term benefits and returns to brands that create them. They can also be the centerpiece of an ecosystem of marketing that surrounds the property—not advertising ideas, but ideas that can be advertised.

Don’t interrupt the things people love. Be the thing people love

In a world where quality content is available everywhere and always, forget “No Time to Die,” there is literally no time to sell. Brands are now competing with every other entertainment producer for the limited attention of their audience. Approaching them with an entertainment mindset—does this have meaning, is it engaging and will it reward the person for the attention they gave?—is the only strategy for developing a relationship with an audience. Entertainment is a signal that a brand respects them and their time and wants to tell a story rather than just see them as consumers. For brands that get that right, audiences will be with them for as long as Bond has been on the screen.

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Candice Cearley

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