There's a Current Assumption that traditional advertising formats are being superseded by "Content", where everyone in agencies gets to be journalists and film-makers.
In this "Exciting New World" scenario, entertainment is "brand-funded", and the "hidden" persuasion behind the content is consequently better hidden and All The More persuasive.
In theory, it all sounds rather lovely and very sexy. Viewed through another lens, this is Second Generation Ad-Funded programming, which has been knocking around in various guises for a good 15 years, and which BMW “film” had one of the best early (2001/2) stabs at with their 8 ten-minute shorts directed by the likes of Guy Ritchie, Ang Lee, John Woo, and Tony Scott. Sometimes “New News” isn’t so new.
Still, brands that cry, "Let me entertain you!" is a wildly more powerful idea than brands that interrupt with, "Let me sell to you".
No dispute that "Brands that Entertain" is a thriller-in-the-making, but it necessitates the observance of TWO fundamentals:
FIRST, you have to make something thrilling.
SECOND, you have to get it into market and create mass-interest.
There is an ever-growing body of evidence that brand-builders are capable of the former, of making entertaining content, whether starring Clive Owen in BMW’s “The Hire”, or using Justin Timberlake ten years later to launch Audi A1’s “The Next Big Thing”.
Episode 1 - Justin Timberlake and the Audi A1
There are considerably fewer examples where Brand Builders & Content Creators nail the Second Fundamental, namely Content Distribution, and this can only drive Failure Rates through the roof, irrespective of the Hollywood star cast in the driving seat.
A Common & Cautionary Tale of many excited people in many excited meeting rooms Just Lovin’ their new brand film tragically climaxes with: Let's get this up on YouTube, sit back, and watch the phenomenon unfold!
Well, pretty much nothing.
Some people see it, and it passes the Rest of the World by.
"Build it and they will come" is not a distribution strategy. It's a blind, misguided leap of faith. Internet Phenomenon’s are the exception, not the norm. Cyberspace is cluttered with duds, with floating content-debris that no one knows about.
Global Head of Planning for Aegis, Malcolm Hunter, has a brilliantly evocative descriptor. Ghost Ships.
Imagine an infinite ocean of drifting Content Ghost Ships, launched and lost in a digital mist. On board: a crew of hugely talented entertainers... with no one to perform to.
The trick is to avoid creating a Ghost Ship. The trick is to be a Cyber Columbus.
Content has to be "Content + DISTRIBUTION"
We need to observe the film industry, the Jedi Masters of content-that-entertains, that entertains so much that people are willing to pay for it.
Content-creation is not enough. Brands can't just be film-makers. A film-maker is nothing without a film-distributor. "The Internet" is a distribution infrastructure, but its mere existence doesn't provide a Distribution Strategy. No one can risk simply up-loading the content they’ve got and bank on it being the next Blair Witch Project (read: $250m worldwide gross; made for $500k.)
In this inviting Digital Age of content-creation, we need to practice the film industry’s time-honoured conventions. Content & Creativity green-lights the project, but Distribution & Marketing brings in the bucks. We can think of "The Brand" as an executive producer, as "The Money." And also a Creative Consultant. But no agency-partner has the right to play auteur and indulge in building Ghost Ships.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s The Brand that needs promoting, or the brand’s content. The fundamental triggers remain the fundamental triggers. Early Buzz. Escalating Hype. Reaching an Absolute Number of Eye Balls. Culminating in: Mass Awareness. It might all sound a bit Old Skool, but the New School still has much to learn.