Welcome to the era of attention on demand
Jon Hamm, CEO of entertainment company Free Turn, says that with consumers having their choice of entertainment on tap and with their demand for content increasing, advertising companies need to think as much about the audience as they do about the brand.
As we get into the heart of 2020 it’s clear that the traditional symbiotic relationship between advertising and entertainment has completely uncoupled.
Audiences, addicted to entertainment, are flocking to ad-free platforms such as Netflix or 'mass niche' passion-based digital players such as InsightTV. The world where brands could simply interrupt the things we love, and, ‘buy’ our attention is increasingly obsolete.
We now demand to have almost every waking moment filled with something beyond the thing we're primarily doing.
At the same time, our desire to be entertained has exponentially increased to such a degree that we now demand to have almost every waking moment filled with something beyond the thing we're primarily doing. We can no longer bear to stand in a train station without looking at our phones. We cannot sit on a bus and look out of the window without listening to The Missing Cryptoqueen, or relax into the evening without a new series queued up on Netflix.
Above: The huge choice of streaming platforms means audiences have a huge choice of entertainment at their fingertips.
The proliferation of platforms and formats means we can also choose exactly what we want, whenever we want it. This explosive growth, seen recently in the likes of Disney+ and Netflix, both beating market expectations for sign ups, has also enabled audiences to become expert at juggling and jumping across multiple technologies seamlessly to find exactly what they desire.
Traditional interruptive brand-led communications no longer deliver the reach or creative cut-through to drive business growth.
All this means we have entered into an era in which people have ultimate control of where they give their attention. I call this 'the era of attention on demand'. Not an evolutionary step, but a complete reset. The balance of power between audiences and brands has been redressed.
This leaves the traditional model facing hard reality; no matter how creatively presented, traditional interruptive brand-led communications no longer deliver the reach or creative cut-through to drive business growth. The consequence: brands and creatives who do not seek to entertain will lose relevance and connection.
Hunger for entertainment has turned us into highly trained power users suckled on the breast of The Sopranos and weaned on Wolf Hall.
Like all big shifts, this new era offers us unique and unmissable creative opportunities. It offers brands the opportunity of moving beyond consumption and regaining their place as key contributors to the collective cultural and social community. Never more clearly brought to life than Dan Krauss’s film 5B.
Above: Dan Krauss's recent documentary, 5B, created in association with Verizon.
The new era demands the creation of genuine entertainment-led ideas that matter. Ideas that contribute to culture rather than borrow from or hijack it. It demands brands be the creator of bold, daring ideas that strive with every fibre to become the thing we love. It also demands ideas from brands that compete with the best entertainment in the world, which is a high and challenging north star.
Branded entertainment must seek balance in a way that traditional entertainment formats don’t.
After all, hunger for entertainment has turned us into highly trained power users suckled on the breast of The Sopranos and weaned on Wolf Hall. We are hungry for new narratives and structures. Deeper, more complex personal, relevant stories are the fix we seek. Today's audiences are extremely well-versed guardians of their own attention and won’t let anything through that doesn’t meet expectation.
New creative principles
It’s hard to conjure a rigid group of creative principles to deliver for this demanding audience, but here are some thought starters we try to keep front of mind at Free Turn. The first is that branded entertainment must seek balance in a way that traditional entertainment formats don’t. Branded entertainment needs to balance the needs of the brand, the audience and the platform.
We need to strive to create work that is not just 'content landfill'.
Sounds pretty obvious when written down, but too often this balance is off. This can lead to work nothing short of a long ad that doesn’t connect to the brand's communication strategy, or which simply isn’t in the right form for the platform that people are seeking it on. Great branded entertainment sits squarely at the convergence of all three. The recently released World’s Fastest Gamer, by Free Turn’s Chief Creative Officer Jeremy Groman, always kept these three constituents in mind, and I think the show is much better for it.
Above: World's Fastest Gamer, an esports-to-real-sports TV series, entirely brand-funded by Canadian brand Torque Esports.
Secondly, think ‘audience first’, not brand first. Only when we know our audience intimately can we understand their entertainment world and how we can contribute meaningfully. Where do they watch? With whom? When? What do they watch? And, most importantly, why? The why is fundamental in unlocking a value-added role for branded entertainment ideas. North Face deeply understood the 'why' with the brilliant Free Solo, and as a result their touch on the film is light but reward with the target audience is very high.
We need to embrace our audience's passion for complex narratives.
Lastly, and most importantly, to deliver for this new entertainment power user, we need to strive to create work that is not just 'content landfill'. We need to embrace, rather than shy away from, our audience's passion for complex narratives that can play out over longer periods of time and their ability to understand multifaceted layers of narrative.
If we do all this, if we place the needs of our audience on the same pillar as the needs of the brand, we can create real entertainment that will take its place in our audience’s world and deliver powerful creative on behalf of our clients to grow their businesses in this new era.