9 Things Non-Media Brands Can Learn From Entertainment Marketing


Inspiration from last week’s PromaxBDA Europe conference.

The PromaxBDA Europe conference reached its finale in a leather-jacketed frenzy last Tuesday night as Amsterdam hometown heroes DutchToast were crowned Agency of the Year.  It was a deserved accolade for their canon of noisy, crowd-pleasing promos for clients like Sky Cinema and Virgin Media: high energy mash-ups of film clips, news footage and graphics cut to rumbustious soundtracks that shook the 120 year old Amsterdam commodity exchange building to its foundations.  

A well-kept secret beyond the global community of talented people working in entertainment marketing, PromaxBDA conferences are annual gatherings dedicated to the generous sharing of best practice, fresh ideas and groundbreaking creative work.  They are events proudly run primarily by creative people in TV for creative people in TV, and the better for it.  Comparing the programme with that of Advertising Week Europe, which takes place in London this week, there were refreshingly few mentions of words like data, programmatic, AI, data, native, personalization, blocking and data.  

So, what came out of this year’s conference to inspire marketers who wouldn’t define their brands with the label "entertainment"?  What were the best ideas that non-media marketers can steal?  (And I mean theft in plain sight.  As Richard Holman of agency Holman & Hunt elegantly reminded us in his session about how to come up with great ideas when you have no time, it was Picasso who said "good artists copy, great artists steal.")  

Well, here are 9 practical thoughts from two stimulating days in the city of canals and coffee shops.

1. Make ideas you-centric, not audience-centric

Celebrity branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev kicked off the event by filling the giant screen with Kim Kardashian’s backside and challenging us to stop asking what the audience wants. Instead, we should simply empower them to decide whether or not they like us.  (As a creative agency that prides itself on audience insight this was a jolt for the Red Bee gang.)  

Sehdev’s mantra was to be 100% authentic at all times:  find out what’s unique about your brand, then amp it up, don’t be afraid of overexposure and trust that your flaws make you fascinating. In his view this is the key to connecting with those elusive millennials, 62% of whom find Kim Kardashian “inspiring”.  To build on this, his Kim Kardashian Principle expands on how “total transparency generates a level of authenticity and intimacy with audiences that traditional marketing tactics just can't touch.”

2. Don’t tease, reveal

A session by Charlie Mawer and Jim de Zoete from our own team on the future of promotional campaigns included at least two themes relevant to non-media marketers and this is the first. Charlie highlighted the extent to which today’s audiences want more and more information about a show, earlier and earlier, before they’ll commit to watch.  In response, there are several examples, from Taylor Swift to Star Wars, of trailers themselves being promoted in advance.  Late last year the Fast & Furious team produced a 150 minute featurette promoting the Fast 8 "live trailer debut event".  Premiere dates are also getting announced many months in advance, for example Netflix launching season 2 of Stranger Things in this year’s Super Bowl, with fans having to wait until Halloween for the first episode.  If non-media marketers got used to promoting their advertising this far in advance, would it incentivize them to make more of those campaigns genuinely entertaining?

3. Tell your story live  

When a group of skydivers formed the letters of Honda over Spain back in 2008 it was hailed by Channel 4 as the first ever totally live commercial on British TV.  Since then the prohibitive costs and logistics have meant very few other examples on linear TV, but the introduction of Facebook Live has opened up many new opportunities.  Facebook now promotes live video more than any other format in the newsfeed and claims that users will spend three times longer watching a live video than a normal one.  Last year Red Bee took advantage by creating live online experiences for Nissan and London’s Midtown district. In Amsterdam German broadcasters RTL and Fox showed how they took live storytelling to another level with their interactive Facebook game to promote season 6 of The Walking Dead.  Two popular YouTubers were stuck in a world overrun by zombies and had to take instructions from viewers (using Facebook reaction buttons) on what to do next.  There are huge opportunities here for brands, but if you’re going to tell your story live it had better be something people will choose to watch.

4. Have authentic conversations

An inspiring case study presented by Dolores Emile of VICELAND showed us how Vice Media’s new TV channel was promoted in France by asking viewers to leave voicemails with a simple, open invitation:  "if you have time to waste, call us".  And call they did, with many of their messages (even negative ones) running on air as interstitial content.  According to Dolores this idea was social by nature and demonstrated that VICELAND is human, real and personal.  Creating authentic conversations like this is something that Jeetendr Sehdev would approve of and that all brands can learn from. It’s one thing inviting your audience to tell you what they really think, but a much bolder thing altogether to turn those contributions into your marketing.

5. Try “storymixing”

One of the joys of PromaxBDA conferences is that you can spend two days simply indulging in all things TV:  new shows, new formats and new learning.  Sahar Baghery of research company Eurodata TV Worldwide talked us through the narrative boundaries that are being pushed and challenged and introduced the concept of "storymixing". Great examples were National Geographic Channel’s mini-series MARS, which combines documentary storytelling with scripted elements and special effects, and the BBC’s Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, in which the historian doesn’t just tell the story in a traditional way but also appears as characters in reenactment scenes.  There’s a big opportunity for non-media brands to apply this thinking to their advertising and content.

6. Make your video vertical

From a storytelling technique to a production technique:  the Red Bee session emphasized the extent to which video viewing on handheld devices is influencing formats.  Smartphone users hold their phones vertically 94% of the time and the outcome is vertical video:  forget 16:9, this is 9:16.  According to Snapchat, vertical video ads are watched all the way through 9 times more than horizontal video ads, and this is opening up new creative opportunities.  In Australia the Vertical Film Festival is now in its second year and marketers need look no further for inspiration.

7. Create brand imprints

Out of necessity, entertainment marketers are amongst the best at creating coherent brand experiences across platforms and case studies from crime channel 13th Street and Spanish pay TV network Movistar+ demonstrated how social and digital elements took centre stage in driving overall brand identities.  In a multiscreen world, all brands need to be thinking more and more about how they work as icons, as identifiers for social media feeds and as unmistakably recognizable assets when viewed at a glimpse.  Our team coined the term “brand imprints” to describe this new approach to graphic design for moving screens.

8. Build entertainment into every brand touchpoint

Amongst the 700 marketers and creatives gathered in Amsterdam, the global design director of one local brand stood out:  Mark van Iterson of Heineken.  His session demonstrated vividly how a brand outside the entertainment sector has built entertainment into its marketing way beyond paid-for advertising and branded content.  As the best TV brands have always known, the entertainment value has to start with packaging and Heineken lives this principle in its R&D.  Sponsorship activation is also entertainment-driven, from the UEFA Champions League onwards and their CSR messages are also highly watchable pieces of content, for example a beautifully crafted drink-drive film featuring Sir Jackie Stewart.    

9. Create magic from existing content

Finally, turning back to DutchToast, if Europe’s Agency of the Year in the entertainment marketing world is determined less by specially shot, originated concepts than by the highly skillful and creative compilation of existing footage, imagine what non-media brands could achieve (and how much money they could save) by not automatically defaulting to shooting new material for every campaign.  Richard Holman’s session included a celebration of the title sequence of Amazon Studios’ comedy-drama Transparent, a lovingly produced, atmospheric edit of old VHS footage evoking some of the show’s main themes.  

In a world increasingly hungry for video content, the default solutions of traditional ad agencies will become less and less relevant for all but the biggest TV campaigns and brands outside the media sector could do a lot worse than look to entertainment marketing for inspiration, relevant new learning and practical, cost-effective creativity. 

Andy Bryant, Managing Director