Please excuse Hollywood’s marketing executives if they seem embattled, because they are as never before.
The assaults that seem to come from every direction will take center stage at Variety’s Entertainment Marketing Summit presented by Deloitte online Aug. 26-27. The digital media revolution makes audiences more elusive; direct-to-consumer streaming upends longstanding industry conventions; consumers hurl their grievances at Hollywood in the groundswell over racial justice; corporate bosses order their marketers to placate those grievances; and the coronavirus pandemic batters every corner of the entertainment landscape.
Jim Marsh, senior VP, digital marketing and content at HBO and a summit speaker, says the digital revolution’s pace of change is accelerating. That portends even more upheaval ahead. For example, video games used to be a strictly solo activity dominated by male participants, but e-sports tournaments gather audiences for the first time and foster broader demographics.
Even more profound, consumers can enter commands for their digital devices by voice, which appeals to older tech-averse consumers and the youngsters who haven’t yet learned written language. Thus, Marsh sees consumer methods of navigation changing “rather quickly. We have to be ready for that.”
Jay Tucker, executive director, Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, sees a shift in digital “moving away from an age of ‘convenience’ to an age of ‘personalization.’”
Video streaming platforms are the big winners so far from the pandemic, as consumers gladly pay subscription fees for entertainment while cooped up for shelter in place. Deloitte’s Digital Media Trends Survey 2020/14th Edition finds consumers growing increasingly cost-conscious, which Kevin Westcott, Deloitte’s vice chairman, U.S. telecom, media and entertainment, says will give ad-supported streaming services significant traction going forward.
Before the pandemic, the top reason that consumers gave for subscribing to a platform was for its original programs; that still ranks high. But with consumer priorities changing, high-riding premium-tier streamers should brace for subscriber churn pressure, Westcott says.
“The next level of competition will be around the consumer experience and how the platforms can keep their consumers engaged beyond the original content they subscribed for,” he says.
Dwight Caines, co-president of marketing at Universal Pictures, was in a lightning-response mode earlier this year for “Trolls World Tour,” which became a digital premiere because of cinema closures. The animated feature’s theatrical marketing was already under way, so the studio “rebuilt our campaign in real time,” he says. “We walked away from activities where we thought we would put our talent too far out because of the pandemic.”
Marketing materials quickly pivoted to pitching “Trolls” as a home-entertainment premiere, which meant inserting in those materials the names of digital platforms offering the $19.99 movie rental. “Trolls” grossed an eye-popping $100 million in digital rentals in its first three weeks.
Entertainment marketing still employs traditional media, especially TV, but digital media gets most of the discussion because its evolution constantly presents new wrinkles and digital can be relatively low cost.
The latest tsunami washing over the media landscape is the groundswell for racial justice and inclusion, which Justina Omokhua, Endeavor’s SVP of brand marketing, says seems to have “every company on its hind legs, and everybody is in defensive mode.”
Omokhua cautions that surface lip service and dressing up messaging in colloquialisms to try to seem hip “will be seen as disingenuous.” She advises a response with meaningful dialogue in a voice that rings true to the org.
UCLA’s Tucker says marketing communications speaking to demographic groups should come across “in a way that makes them feel like you understand them and that your brand serves them. If you do it well, people welcome you into their community and you can have a dialogue.”
These days, the dialogue often takes place on social media. “The essence of what you are trying to do remains the same,” Omokhua says. It’s the age-old desire by marketers to be relevant and strike up conversations with consumers. “But the levers that you are pulling are changing.”