Tom Cruise sporting Ray-Bans at the 2009 Nascar Daytona 500 (Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
Tom Cruise sporting Ray-Bans at the 2009 Nascar Daytona 500 (Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
A view from Ed Warren

No Time To Sell? From marketer to media mogul, brands need to look beyond product placement

In a world full of quality entertainment, brands must move beyond thinking about 'advertising ideas' to 'ideas that can be advertised'.

With No Time to Die finally hitting UK screens this Thursday (30 September), not only will we see Daniel Craig’s last Bond outing, we’ll also witness a plethora of global brands paying tens of millions to have their products placed within the film. 

From Sean Connery donning a Turnbull and Asser shirt to Daniel Craig savouring a long overdue Heineken, Brands and 007 go together like Bond and Moneypenny. But we’ve come a long way since the early days of product placement. Contemporary brand interaction with Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry should now be more about marketers becoming developers, investors and co-producers of true entertainment IP.

From Savage x Fenty reaching Amazon Prime Video’s 100 million viewers to Unilever and Dove working with Ron Howard on Dads, the evolution from crude product placement to smart entertainment IP is happening at speed. But only marketers who truly understand the entertainment industry mindset will be able to deliver. 

Entertainment is a product category, not a marketing channel. So we need to switch from thinking about it as a form of sophisticated marketing and instead think like movie moguls. How? By acting as publishers, studios and producers.

This entails a bold shift, moving from marketing expenditure to entertainment investment, whereby entertainment products can be sold on to drive ROI while simultaneously hitting the marketing objective of engaging target audiences.

Knowing viewers – seeing them as audiences, rather than consumers – is key. We need to understand where they intersect with the brand to avoid a jarring misalignment of values. So ask: “what does the audience want to hear?”, rather than “what do we want to say?”. 

Similarly, we need to shift from messaging to storytelling.

Entertainment is all about the story. It’s how Ray-Bans established their kudos through Tom Cruise (main image) and Top Gun. But to tell other stories you first have to understand your own: what is the brand’s POV and where does it belong in culture? Once this Eureka moment is reached, there’s a framework for creating entertainment.

Understanding the brand’s story frees marketers from the traditional and clunky go-to of product placement, which – unless it genuinely adds to the character – can come across as incidental accessorising, or, worse still, disrupting the all-important suspension of disbelief. 

Bond’s Ford Mondeo in Casino Royale wasn’t authentic to his character – whereas Ford v Ferrari made the brand a protagonist in the story. Like the Lego movie franchise, the main aim of brands should be not just screen time, but understanding their authorial voice. It’s so much more powerful than basic product placement.

But the shift from marketer to movie mogul necessitates a wider lens so as to develop a broad slate. Ideation and creation need to be driven by what commissioners and studios want to buy, as much as what the brand wants to sell. So rather than gunning for just the one magic bullet, marketers need to build a slate of multiple potential projects within the brand’s entertainment framework.

There are no quick fixes when developing genuine entertainment IP. It’s a lengthy commitment. But the reward comes from creating content that persists in culture and builds long-term audiences, while also being the cornerstone of a marketing eco-system that surrounds the property. Think beyond “advertising ideas”, to “ideas that can be advertised”.

We live in a world of endless quality entertainment. Brands now have to compete against the likes of Netflix for attention. And the best way to capture this attention is to develop entertainment IP that has meaning, is engaging and will reward the viewer for sacrificing their scarce attention. 

Creating quality entertainment, rather than sales, messages, shows respect for the audience. Brands that understand this will be able to create entertainment IP with as much longevity as Bond himself. 

Ed Warren is chief creative officer at The Sunshine Company

Main image: Tom Cruise sporting Ray-Bans at the 2009 Nascar Daytona 500 (Geoff Burke/Getty Images)