Why It's the Perfect Time for Marketers to Think Like Producers

Covid is accelerating trends that favor entertainment over traditional advertising

Here is a list of shows we're bingeing, can't-miss celebrity social media and live-streams, and DTC brands getting us through WFH and "safer from home."

Actually, this is not that at all. Sorry.

As physical gatherings remain limited and the economy remains uncertain, people are watching, sharing-and-following, and shopping from home at unprecedented rates. Good news for content distributors and creators, Amazon and DTC brands, right? But is it good news for most marketers? Maybe not.

The pandemic has accelerated and amplified three key trends—trends that have been in motion for years—that we marketers must quickly adapt to or suffer additional business consequences beyond those directly related to Covid-19.

Trend 1: Changing content distribution dynamics.

Netflix, Amazon Video, Apple TV+, Disney+, ESPN+, HBO Max, Peacock, MLB TV, NBA TV … It seems every day a new subscription service launches, most with limited or no advertising, including many that offer live sports ad-free. What's a TV advertiser to do? We can't ignore the upper funnel indefinitely, so we need to look beyond TV ads for a viable solution.

Trend 2: Changing audience behavior.

Even before the explosion of ad-free viewing options, interruptive ads were being avoided and ignored at alarming rates. Study after study shows we look away from the TV during ads (even during the Super Bowl), often to a second screen with mobile ad blockers. Add this to Trend 1 above, and justifying that TV production and media budget because of "reach" seems futile; it's clear that reach does not mean engagement.

Trend 3: Retail channel disruption.

Before almost every retail store in the world shut its doors entirely and began planning for long-term limited capacity, Amazon and DTC were already spelling the end of shopping as we knew it. Now, it's really over. So, whether you're a brand selling directly, a brand trying to differentiate in a digital shopping environment, or both, how do you draw your customers to your site, engage people in your brand values and story, or create affinity and loyalty? Hint: It's not going to be a killer :60 and a CTA.

If you're still reading, here's hoping your inside voice is saying, "One silver lining of this once-in-a-hundred-years public health and economic crisis is that it has created a once-in-a-career opportunity to realign the relationship between brands and entertainment."

Prior to subscription, the entire TV ecosystem was funded by advertising. Literally every dollar deficit-financed for the creation of TV shows was paid back by advertisers (plus a super healthy profit for the distributors, creators and stars of those shows). Now, brands must partner with and create content that attracts and engages audiences. Also known as: "entertainment."

Leaders will think like marketers, and act like producers.

In the Content Era, winning brands will create original content and content-centric campaigns to go with them. Product placement, brand integration, franchise partnerships, licensed merchandise, talent-endorsed and talent-led consumer brands all must also play increasing roles.

Here's the good news: While content distributors seem less and less interested in your advertising dollars and consumers are less interested in your ads, content creators and entertainment talent have never been more open to working directly with brands and even to creating their own brands. 

What we have here is a total realignment of the relationships between content creators, talent, content distributors, content consumers, brands and the business ecosystem that supports these relationships. 

What we have here is the opportunity to redefine these relationships, this time on our terms.

Don't write off Nike's Breaking2 as "Oh, that's just Nike being Nike" or Transformers and The Lego Movie as obvious because they're toy companies, or Red Bull as crazy to have over-invested in action and motor sports and sports media. They're early case studies in success beyond the boundaries of "advertising."

Don't write off Jessica Alba (Honest Co.), Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop), Reese Witherspoon (Draper James), George Clooney (Casamigos Tequila) and Ryan Reynolds (Aviation Gin) as anomalously entrepreneurial. Assume they're the leading edge of a movement, and ask how you can help the next wave of talent start their business or become a partner in yours.

Don't assume you have to wait for someone else to create content that attracts and engages audiences before your brand can play a role. Bring your brand values and product attributes directly to creators and producers; start a conversation about how those values and attributes might align with a character or storyline in an existing show, or a theme for an entirely new show. Conversely, maybe their character or show can spawn a new brand, product or digital retail experience.

Don't write off anyone or assume anything. All bets are off.

This is that scene in the movie where all the bad stuff has happened and everyone is standing around looking at each other with a face that says, "What do we do now?"

One by one, we watch characters make a choice: Be part of creating the future, or fall victim to it.

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Jae Goodman
Jae Goodman is the CEO of Observatory, a content-centric agency named to Fast Company’s 2020 Most Innovative Companies list.

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