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4 Lessons Hollywood Can Teach Brands About Winning Big Audiences

'Think like a marketer, act like a producer'

Quality content is a key ingredient.

For decades, marketing has been predicated on interrupting someone else's content. Now, as marketers continue to explore creating content that people want to watch for its own sake, there are many useful lessons to learn from Los Angeles' entertainment community.

David Messinger Illustration: Alex Fine/Snyder

This observation isn't to naively suggest that marketers and content creators share the same playbook. They don't. After all, marketers develop marketing content to distinguish their brands from the rest of the pack and to drive sales. For these marketers, "content" is the means to an end. On the other hand, content creators aim for stellar box office returns, strong ratings and sold-out ticket sales. For the entertainment industry, their "content" (and its ancillary extensions) is the unequivocal end itself.

Although these business models refuse to line up in a neat and tidy fashion, these two worlds are colliding in elegant and messy ways. Marketers now want to tell stories that people will want to watch, even as people, particularly millennials, deride advertising as the toll they need to pay to get to the content they want. When aspiring to develop entertaining marketing content, we've found it helps to learn from the experts who create and distribute successful entertainment content for a living. Following are four of the many lessons.

Quality content wins: TV pundits have lauded the recent renaissance of scripted programming with audiences flocking to quality content. Simultaneously, streaming subscription services like Netflix and Amazon have also developed high-caliber series which further define their offering. Enlightened marketers are following a similar path. Increasingly, they are exploring ways to make their marketing content inherently more watchable in an effort to avoid the lingering trap of message avoidance by their audiences.

It's not easy. For an industry that has long relied on interrupting someone else's content, advertisers historically have benefited from a captive audience. Today, marketers are slowly pulling away from the conventions of old and devising new plans to create content worthy of garnering its own audience. Putting these plans into action requires new strategic and creative tools, as well as partners who are experts in how to build brands and businesses through entertainment-based marketing programs.

Think like a marketer, act like a producer: A marketer never loses sight of their underlying business needs and how to allocate precious, if not limited, resources in this pursuit. As marketers develop content more regularly, we can learn practical lessons from producers of entertainment content.

A producer intuitively knows that successful content finds its way into the world with the deliberate aggregation of four key elements, leaving none of it to chance—financing, content development, distribution and promotion.

Marketers also need to commit to each of these key areas early in the process; otherwise, it's content for the sake of content that does not serve a marketer's needs.

A slate of programming mitigates risk: No studio or network would gamble its fortunes on a singular movie or TV show. Instead, their programming slate is a portfolio which mitigates their risk and allows for the serendipity of a property that unexpectedly takes off.

Marketers should do the same. Even with an abundance of advanced market research, not every marketing content initiative is going to be a runaway success. Therefore, rather than investing in one isolated content play, marketers should think more broadly about a programming calendar that evolves over weeks and months, and, perhaps, as a TV network does, makes the most of "hit" marketing content.

Successful franchises live in popular culture: During the first 10 months of this calendar year, franchise properties accounted for eight of the top 10 films at the box office. In the run-up to opening weekend, these films show up everywhere. From sneak peeks from the director on social media to cast appearances on late-night talk shows, these films live a life beyond their screen time at the local cineplex. The filmmakers and studios are trying to make sure that their films leave an indelible print on the collective psyche to drive interest, buzz and ultimately results.

Brands, too, can and must live across many facets of popular culture. When developing marketing initiatives, marketers must increasingly think expansively about how to extend and cultivate their brands beyond traditional tactics.

These lessons are not meant to imply that audiences are clamoring for 90-minute feature films about brands. They aren't.

Instead, as marketers look to elevate their marketing content—not merely for hubris but for survival—the Hollywood entertainment community can shine some valuable lessons when interpreted and applied, appropriately, for building A-list brands and blockbuster businesses.

David Messinger is co-head of CAA Marketing in Los Angeles and vice chair of the American Advertising Federation. 

This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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