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What Sets Entertainment Marketing Apart?

Ten years ago, it was estimated that the average city-dweller was pummeled with over 3,000 marketing messages per day. In 2007, Yankelovitch Research revised the number upward to 5,000.4 The increase in technology, the growth of Web-supported ad strategies, and the proliferation of new ways to slap brand messages on every surface available have only added to that load in the last six years.

The simple fact is, the human brain can’t keep up with the overload. Keep in mind, this marketing tsunami addresses every product imaginable, from low-cost divorces to high-end jewelry.

There’s a lot of clutter out there, all of it competing for the consumer’s time and pocketbook. But what’s your single greatest challenge as an entertainment marketing professional? What makes it necessary for you to cut through all of this in order to reach your target audience—NOW?

Shelf life. The amount of time that your product is relevant.

The average entertainment product is an economic tsetse fly, living and dying in an exceedingly short time span. Although entertainment marketing shares the search for the right medium and consumer connection with its more traditional cousins, the product itself is quite different. Entertainment isn’t something—like a home, a car, a financial institution, or a great restaurant—that can carefully build a relationship with the consumer over years or decades. Entertainment and all of the products associated with it must grab the attention and the wallet of the consumer before that fickle target turns to something else.

Entertainment content is based totally on creativity—a story, an action, something ephemeral that stirs the consumer. The creation and distribution of the end result is fraught with peril due to human frailties. Production and release dates can change with the sneeze of a star and require a fine balance of crossed fingers and creative finagling. As in fashion, trends and styles change. With the preproduction planning and strategizing of many forms of entertainment stretching out years before actual release, entertainment producers must strive to catch the wave before it crashes into the cliffs of consumer apathy.

The basis of all decisions rests on the whim of that fickle populace, and keeping in the forefront—especially in this technology-rich age—requires a stiff combination of market research, guts, and just plain luck.

Entertainment marketing requires the same focus on grabbing the wind. Rather than simply selling an object, entertainment marketing first focuses on selling an experience, convincing the audience to buy into the event before any sale of objects associated with that encounter can occur. It requires creating Wannasee-Have-to-Go-Have-To-Have in a population that is overwhelmed with choice—including not going at all.

So marketing original content is consumed with speed—there is little or no time to test-market before release, before one source or another gets word of the buzz on a project and broadcasts it to the world at large. Every film is a new product, and each one is different: different content, different audiences, different deal structures. There may be two or three—or ten—of these products released every week, yet every campaign must hit the target on the money and on time. With film, any misfire, any hint of bad box office, must be counteracted immediately because the window of first-run distribution is only three to four weeks.

Budgets for initial marketing can be huge—for a film that costs between $50 and $100 million to produce, the average marketing budget is between $25 and $40 million—but the burn rate is extremely high, with much of the budget being spent during the six- to eight-week period just before and during the film’s theatrical release dates. The stakes can be as proportionally high for any other fresh-release entertainment product—games, books, or music.

Additionally, the marketing of that original product focuses not only on the initial product itself—the movie, the CD, the program, the sports spectacle—but also on all the associated products spun off through licensing and merchandising. Each original concept can launch billions of dollars in revenue if carefully handled and strategized across all channels. In fact, licensing and merchandising revenue can widely eclipse the revenue brought in by the original event. Licensing is what makes movies the still-reigning champ of the entertainment world, regardless of box-office revenue that looks small in comparison to that of electronic games.

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