History comes before the media.
Try to dive into a campaign before the brand buys its media. Why? Because once that media is purchased, you’ve put yourself in a box. Don’t start with a 60-second commercial or billboard image. Don’t even get me started on scripts and storyboards. Start with the story you want to tell and it will lead you to the media.
You approach a brand’s story the same way you approach a movie: with the message you’re trying to convey to viewers. Is it a love story, comedy, drama? Can it be appropriate for the brand without looking like a commercial? Once you lock it down, then you can talk about media. This could be a series of short films, a feature film or a VR experience; it can be told on one or more channels, or even in new media like the metaverse, as long as all channels point the user back to the main body of content.
Don’t use celebrities just because you can.
The prevailing wisdom among advertisers seems to be not only that celebrities are necessary for brand entertainment, but that if one celebrity is good, then many, many more are better. Just look at the Super Bowl commercials doing the dance of a thousand celebrities.
Check out the last 10 Best Picture Oscar winners. They all had great actors, but almost none of them had megastars. If you get the story right, you don’t necessarily need an A-List celebrity to make it amazing. One of my favorite Super Bowl commercials is “The Force” by Deutsch LA. Yes, there was a (little) Darth Vader, but the best parts were the child’s longing to be special and the father’s bond with his son.
Collaborate with the best.
It takes hundreds, even thousands of people to make a hit movie. Not only are there a lot of them, but they are at the top of their game. So if you’re going to make entertainment content, you need to work with the best. Don’t default to sales directors, even though there are great ones out there. If you want a movie, start with a director!
The way you work together is also different. The traditional agency creative process is usually a battle royale, where teams compete against each other for the winning idea and protect it from interference. Contrast that with the creative process at a place like Pixar, where everyone judges to shape an idea. To create great entertainment, you must share ownership and credit. You need to welcome voices into the debate – you never know which water cooler conversation will spark an idea or which team member will be the one to “break” the idea.
Explore entertainment trends.
It’s easier to predict pop culture than you might think, in part because movies and TV shows take a long time to develop. If you were working on a project six months ago, for example, you’ll know with a little research that multiverses are going to be hot right now, between multiple superhero titles and Everything Everywhere at Once. So your brand’s mind-melting dive into the multiverse would seem far-fetched when you’re actually just doing your homework.
Explore what’s next in the world of entertainment. There are many benefits. Returning to the multiverse, you might have guessed that Everything Everywhere star Ke Hui Quan, who resurfaced decades after iconic childhood roles in the Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, would become a hot commodity. If you had locked him into a project then, it would have been cheaper than if you came to him when he was hot, hot, hot.
Advertising is changing, and to stay ahead of that change, you’ll have to forget a lot of what you know about advertising. You’ll need to learn what makes entertainment work—and get your own MBA in entertainment.