The 10 Biggest Takeaways From Variety’s Entertainment Marketing Summit

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the largest disruptors the business of entertainment has ever seen, demanding industry professionals to take a closer look at certain trends that are accelerating at an unprecedented rate.

During Variety’s virtual Entertainment Marketing Summit, presented by Deloitte on April 22, some of the prominent marketing leaders in the entertainment business gave their two cents on how to navigate the constantly shifting landscape and where they see the industry heading next. Here were the 10 biggest takeaways from the virtual event:

The Line Between Film and Television Has Blurred

Just a decade ago, there was a clear distinction between a theatrical film and a primetime network series created for television. The world of streaming has opened up new possibilities of what content can look like, including its length and how its presented. With hit series such as “The Mandalorian” and “WandaVision,” Disney Plus has been releasing shorter-length episodic shows with the scope of a blockbuster film. Asad Ayaz, president of marketing at Walt Disney Studios, said his team combined various marketing strategies in order to see what worked and what didn’t.

“We set out to carefully craft a plan, safe story beats, character reveals, spoilers and build that excitement with every campaign, regardless of the platform that’s going on,” Ayaz said.

Giving the Option to Watch a Movie in Theaters or at Home

Ayaz discussed letting consumers choose between seeing a new Disney film in theaters or ordering it on Disney Plus Premier Access. Given the current health crisis, Ayaz said his team put a lot of time and energy into how that messaging appeared.

“It’s really inherently threaded through every aspect of the campaign and giving people those two options, then working with all of our partners on the streaming side and on the theatrical side to customize that as necessary,” Ayaz said.

Changing Consumer Behavior

When it comes to premiering a trailer, for example, Ayaz said it’s become harder to get a consumer’s attention than ever before. He said marketing professionals have to be more creative and think outside the box.

“As an audience member, you are being hit by content for streaming, theatrical campaigns are coming back up again, there’s content on TV, you’re getting hit by a lot,” Ayaz said. “A lot of it actually has very similar production value and it can be confusing. Navigating that and being really clear is another new reality for all of us.”

Giving Room for New IP to Breathe

With the noisier campaigns for series such as “The Mandalorian” and “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” Disney Plus’ executive vice president of marketing and operations Joe Earley said it’s a challenge to introduce new IP as its own content. When it comes to introducing a show such as “Big Shot,” Earley said it was important to bring in a marketing pro like John Stamos who can confidently hold a position at the forefront of publicity and promotional campaigns.

“We will just turn over every little pebble that we can and then really use the power of the product itself to move people through,” Earley said. “The benefit of having your movie or series on a Disney Plus is that we can just bring an audience and expose it.”

The Importance of Marketing a Platform’s Full Value Proposition

Earley said many consumers will write off Disney Plus as a platform that’s “just for kids.” Whether it’s the 31 full seasons of “The Simpsons” or the high-end volume of National Geographic content, it’s important for the company to market the enormous full value proposition on Disney Plus.

Seth Goren, who serves as the group senior vice president of media strategy and analytics at Discovery Inc., said he came across a similar messaging challenge while launching Discovery Plus earlier this year.

“We’ve got to explain to consumers, Discovery is more than just Discovery Channel,” Goren said. “It’s HGTV, it’s Food, it’s TLC, it’s ID, which very few people know.”

Leaning Into the Content’s Emotional Connection With Audiences

When working on a campaign for a film or television series, Amazon Studios’ chief marketing officer Ukonwa Ojo said the goal is to get people to lean in, engage with the content and keep coming around for more. She said it’s not as much of a sell as it’s connecting with people emotionally on many different levels.

“In entertainment, you get to tell people’s stories that make them dream, make them laugh, make them cry, make them angry and sad,” Ojo said. “That emotional connection is what is so uniquely powerful about marketing and entertainment, and it unites the marketers and the creators because we both want to make sure that we’re tapping into that.”

Empathy Is Key

Ojo said it’s impossible to create a great relationship with someone if you don’t have empathy. She said nobody wants to go on a second date with someone who spends the whole time talking about themselves and she sees marketing as similar to that.

“We’re spending a lot of time really understanding our audience,” Ojo said. “We already know our point of view and what we have to sell and what we want to get people excited about. But if we know more about them, their ethnic background, what they need to escape, what relaxes them, what gives them joy, what makes them angry? The more we learn about them, the more we understand the intersections that will be really motivating.”

The Power of Critical Acclaim

Amazon Studios’ “Sound of Metal” received six nominations at the Academy Awards this year, which is a powerful way to grab the attention of new viewers. The studio has broken a record for itself after drawing total 12 Oscar nominations.

“It allows people to discover titles that they may not have otherwise,” Ojo said. “When all of a sudden you see something like a ‘Sound of Metal’ and it has six nominations, you go, ‘hold on a minute, how did I miss this six nominations?’ Then they get to discover this incredible, powerful, moving, gripping story that they may not otherwise have discovered.”

Finding a Unifying Theme

Domenic DiMeglio, the executive vice president, head of operations and chief marketing officer at ViacomCBS Digital, said one of the biggest decisions his marketing team had to make before launching Paramount Plus was figuring out how all their brands fit together. In the end, DiMeglio said his team realized that all of Paramount’s content had an authentic connection with their audiences and that there was a piece of content for every person to enjoy.

“In a way, we felt like there could be a unifying theme across all of the brands in terms of how the content spoke to the audiences and connected with them,” DiMeglio said. “Starting with our Super Bowl campaign, our goal was to communicate that our brand is confident, down-to-earth and self-aware, with an approachable tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Our consumer marketing campaign has taken on a distinct tone: fun and irreverent.”

Keeping Retention Rates High

Deloitte Technology, Media & Telecommunications released its 15th annual Digital Media Trends survey, which showed an important trend of how consumers are hopping around from one streaming service to another. DiMeglio said some key indicators of keeping consistent retention rates for Paramount Plus included the number of hours streamed and the diversity of content.

“You’re going to drive as much acquisition as you can, but there’s so much work that goes into driving acquisition,” DiMeglio said. “You really need to match that and pair that with a really strong engagement program that tries to keep them as long as possible.”

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