Why Any Brand Can Be an Entertainment Brand

5 lessons from the world of film, TV and gaming

Every brand wants people to engage with them, share their enthusiasm, and come back for more. Consumers don't do that; audiences do. One industry in particular has no issues in attracting and servicing an audience in a way that generates that response: entertainment. Here are five best practices from the world of entertainment that can pay dividends for brands in any industry. 

1. Story first

Humans are simple creatures; an interesting story is usually all it takes to win our attention. Obviously, the entertainment category has a leg up here; the entire product is made up of stories.

But you can (and should) tell a good story regardless of the product you're promoting. In fact, sometimes things become even more compelling because they're coming from an unorthodox source. The story doesn't have to be original if it's authentically intriguing; Google's Oscars ad, for instance, was interesting specifically because it invited viewers to insert their product into some of the best-known plots in movie history.

#HeyGoogle, Let's Go to the Movies
2. Integrate to dominate

There's a distinct lack of confidence in a lot of brand work, most visibly in the way it tries to make every asset achieve multiple objectives—especially driving sales. After all, brand work gets only one shot at a potential customer. Better to make the most of that impression and make them start thinking about pulling out their wallet, right?

Entertainment campaigns don't work like that. Movies and shows rely on a vast matrix of integrated assets that nudge you down the funnel; one of your friends will share a movie's social stunt, and then you'll see ads on bus shelters while you're heading into work, and by the time you see the trailer in front of an entirely different movie you can't wait to buy a ticket. 

As brands like Merriam-Webster and Wendy's have learned, this approach works especially well in social, where a good post can do work even when its relevance to the products being sold is minimal; the cost of developing snarky tweets about dictionary definitions that relate to current events or withering burns of other brands is negligible, but the visibility they can yield is potentially huge. 

3. Appeal to the heart, not the brain

Movie tickets rarely get marked down, and most TV shows are free to anyone with access to a network. So entertainment brands typically have to position their products' value in terms beyond dollars and cents. Instead, their products' worth comes from their inherent emotional appeal, like the feminist themes at the heart of Captain Marvel or the incisive social commentary driving Get Out. 

Traditional brands would be wise to follow suit. Smart advertisers connect their products to emotions rather than the hard-and-fast benefits of picking them over a competitor. Once you have a lead's attention, you can always double back with messaging about price points or functionality, but that's not the stuff that hooks them in the first place. 

Consider Squarespace. Plenty of web hosts can compete with them on price or service, but by focusing on what people use their product to do, they've cornered the market on childhood dreams. 

Squarespace | Dream It with Idris Elba (Directed by Spike Jonze)
4. Make the people the story

A brand's story is more than just the thing people consume—it's the act of consumption, too. The story of Star Wars, for example, started with Luke Skywalker's adventures; today, it's about the elevation of a movie's mythology to the status of a religion. That's why entertainment brands go above and beyond to show people they're watching and they care. They're not doing CRM; they're writing new pages of their brand bible. Traditional brands should work just as hard to fold their fans' enthusiasm into the story of their products.

But there's one thing entertainment brands can't do to develop these stories that traditional brands can: let fans control the product itself. Entertainment is consumed passively. Even video games, the most interactive form of entertainment around, limit how players can use them. But once you buy a bottle of ketchup, you can do whatever you want with it. That's why smart brands find ways to give their people actual agency over the stuff they produce. Heinz not only let folks vote on whether or not they wanted Mayochup (exactly what it sounds like) to come to a store near them, but also gave them input on the name. How likely do you think Disney would be to let fans vote on whether a beloved character lives or dies? 

5. Know your role

Finally, stop trying to compete with entertainment. After all, envy is a two-way street; entertainment marketers are just as envious of folks who get to work in brand world as the other way around. And while that envy occasionally results in awesome work like a Bud Light ad set in Westeros, you can't bank on those lightning-in-a-bottle moments. 

A more sustainable approach is to quit trying to compete with the latest blockbuster movie and focus your competitive energy on your core audience's attention spans; your brand's job becomes a lot more manageable when you're just trying to be more interesting than anything surrounding your creative in the feed or on the air.

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