• Transform magazine
  • November 29, 2021

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Are all brands entertainment brands now or do they still have something to learn?

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Scott Lakso, executive producer at branding agency loyalkaspar, writes how all brands, whether financial or medical, have a lot to learn from entertainment brands. The most important lesson brands can learn from entertainment ones, Lakso argues, is to acknowledge that the audiences' attention is the most valuable thing.

When you picture a modern entertainment brand, what comes to mind? The most common answers I hear, unsurprisingly, are film studios, streaming media platforms, or – if you’re a bit older – linear television networks. Those companies literally create entertainment as the product they offer, after all.

But at a time where every brand has unfettered access to us from inside our pockets, around our ears, and in front of our faces, nearly all of them seem to be making an effort to cultivate and establish not only a consumer base but a devoted audience. Given that, I wonder…is the definition of an entertainment brand changing?

What does it mean for a non-entertainment brand to behave like – or unlike – an entertainment brand? Are there rules, and, if so, can they be broken? Can any brand be an entertainment brand, or are many of them just pretenders?

Branding for the screen

I imagine that our associations with entertainment brands are rooted in how the aforementioned film studios and TV networks pioneered and mastered our collective fascination with entertainment made for, and consumed on, screens.

Never before had arts or entertainment commanded such undivided attention, demanding our eyes and ears simultaneously in order to enjoy their product. These companies were the first to literally seek and monetise our attention, and with that came immense branding power. Other than the commercial slots they sold to advertisers, every second of content was owned and operated by the networks themselves, allowing for cross-promotion with other content and endless opportunities to reinforce their brands (the networks’) as part of the entertainment being consumed.

Classic entertainment branding elements such as bumpers, lower thirds, bugs, menus, and audio mnemonics (or sound logos) piped reminders of a network’s branding into the viewers’ consciousness while they were simultaneously consuming the product – often for hours on end. As powerful as brands like Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola are, they couldn’t hope to capture that much of someone’s attention at any given time. Not unless they had something to offer in return.

More Brands on More Screens

It didn’t take too long for that landscape to change. With the proliferation of high-speed wireless internet and smart devices, we shifted from interacting with audiences in a primarily “real world” arena to an on-screen one. Most non-entertainment companies were unequipped to leverage these constantly-evolving canvasses and were unfamiliar with the conventions that had been invented, iterated and perfected over the 30 years since cable television took over the entertainment world.

Traditional entertainment companies had been doing this for decades. They advertised out in the world, they advertised on their own channels, and they weaved their brands into their streams of content. Suddenly, in a matter of years, any brand, from clothing companies to hospitality brands, needed to learn from their entertainment counterparts in order to gain a following.

The explosion of social media channels in the 2010s advanced this phenomenon tenfold as every company needed to speak to its consumers on countless platforms and services. As stale as it may be to talk about the ‘attention economy’, it’s a fact that the more often and the longer you engage with a brand, the more likely you are to buy its products. When your audience has an unlimited number of alternatives at any given time, you need to give them a reason to stay.

Any Brand Can be an Entertainment Brand

Each brand that you might consider patronising isn’t just competing with the companies that make similar products; it’s competing with every other brand that has a digital presence and that’s fighting for your attention, which – you guessed it – is now all other brands.

While it’s tempting to suggest that non-entertainment brands leave the entertaining to the experts, perhaps a more realistic solution is for them to learn one important lesson that entertainment brands knew from the very start: our attention had to be earned, the content we are asked to stick around for (and pay for) needs to be worth it. Whatever you ask of your audience, what you offer them needs to be exciting, beautiful, and enjoyable on its own merits. Only then will you earn, and deserve, a following.

Audiences will follow you if you give them a good reason to, which begins with acknowledging that their attention is valuable, a person’s most precious - and limited - resource. So the next time a non-entertainment brand requests that their audience follow them, the first question asked should always be: “Why should they?”