Brands are welcomed on to the stage

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Funding cuts in the arts and entertainment sectors have made the public more accepting of brand involvement, but the role consumers require of them is so much more than as bankrollers.

Brands need to become the new patrons of music, entertainment and culture, according to new research shown exclusively to Marketing Week. With government budgets for the arts sector being slashed to save money, consumers are looking for brands to step in and help keep cultural experiences alive.

The vast majority of consumers 85% are open to the idea of brands nurturing the next generation of entertainment, claims the Let Me Entertain You survey, carried out by agency Frukt. Whether it’s music, visual arts, literature or any other form of culture, it appears brands will be welcomed with open arms.

But this new phase of patronage requires more from business than simply handing over cold, hard cash in the form of traditional sponsorship deals. Frukt director of strategy Chris Heath says people also want companies to entertain them.

“For a number of brands, it’s no longer about watching from the sidelines and dipping in for a fleeting moment of PR it’s about making a deeper and more visible commitment to culture and the role it plays in people’s lives,” he explains.

Heath says that although this trend does not entirely spell the end of traditional sponsorships there is still a place for these too it means that most businesses should be prepared to use associations with cultural properties in a more sophisticated way.

The research also identifies eight different areas that define the possibilities for aspects of brand activity in entertainment: stories, education, innovation (or ’wow’), proximity, priority, engagement, sociability and escapism.

These aspects explain how consumers want to be involved with any cultural tie-ups between brands and the arts. For instance, ’proximity’ refers to consumers wanting to get closer to an experience, its content or entertainment talent. ’Priority’ means that people want to feel they have some kind of advantage from the experience.

For the cultural categories where brand involvement is already well established, such as sports and music, proximity and priority are particularly important. An example of one project making use of this already is Coca-Cola’s 24-hour session with the American band Maroon 5, with fans ’helping’ the group to write a record in a day.

For other cultural fields where brand involvement is less common, this type of initiative may be less popular. The research suggests that in areas such as literature, where the focus is on ’education’, or visual arts, consumers want to be ’wowed’ (see graph, right). If a brand gets involved with a project, it needs to offer something people haven’t seen before.

It appears that concerns about receiving a bad reception for getting involved may be unfounded the research shows little outright rejection of brand involvement, with film, fashion and comedy received as well as more proven brand territories such as music and sport. However, 69% of consumers feel that brands would be better spending their budget in areas other than sport which is already heavily financed through sponsorship deals.

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More than nine out of 10 (91%) accept or are positive about brand involvement in music, entertainment and culture. Meanwhile, 56% are ’proactively positive’ about the idea that brands could be the new patrons of the culture sector.

The cuts to public spending have intensified this feeling, with 70% of consumers now more receptive to the idea of brand involvement in the arts, entertainment and culture. Almost two-thirds (64%) either ’agree’ or ’strongly agree’ with the idea that brands now have a clear role to play in arts, entertainment and culture.

The film industry has recently welcomed in corporate spending after severe funding cuts. Tesco has set up a film production arm that will see films of best-selling novels go straight to DVD and sold at stores, and Absolut has funded a Spike Jonze film shown exclusively online a film that has nothing to do with vodka. Eurostar took a similar tack when it backed Shane Meadows’ 2008 film Somers Town, which had no shots of smiling train drivers.

Frukt’s Heath says it is this sensitivity to editorial needs and a lack of direct positioning that generates the favourable impression of brand as cultural connector.

Others agree. Whizz Kid Entertainment chief executive Malcolm Gerrie, who took part in the research study, says the marriage of brands and content is “absolutely inevitable” as is the role of social media in the marketing mix. Indeed, the report’s findings suggest it is the layers that brands can offer on top of the original content that most excite the audience.

“Film lovers aren’t finished with a film once they’ve watched it,” explains Heath. “They’ll watch it again, post and read about it in forums, spoof it on YouTube, organise a party around it.”

He points to Volkswagen’s See Film Differently campaign as an example of what audiences are looking for. Among other activities, the car maker invites people to see iconic films in the locations where they were filmed.

Of course, there are examples of when brands haven’t quite got it right. Foster’s lager, for example, identified comedy as its perfect partner and launched a ’Comedy God’ poll last year. Comedian Stewart Lee took offence and inadvertently sparked a viral response leading to obscure Japanese troupe Frank Chickens coming top of the poll. Foster’s has, however, fared well with its internet-based series that brought back the popular Alan Partridge TV character from retirement. It managed to net a million viewers in its first few weeks alone.

The Alan Partridge series shows how brands such as Foster’s can develop a more subtle, content-based relationship with comedy. Heath explains: “Brands need to find angles that put them, or characters developed by the brand, centre stage and not merely as a banner backdrop.”

Of course, in any sector of entertainment, brands might choose a number of ways to engage with consumers through content. They could create, commission or even sponsor the content, depending on their business objectives, brand values and target audience.

Well over half of those surveyed prefer companies to entertain them through some form of activity when working in the music, entertainment and culture areas and see a brand’s performance in this field as a clear preference and purchase driver. This need for entertainment from brands is even more acute among the younger generations, with more than 80% of people aged 16 to 18 more likely to choose a brand that entertains them over one that doesn’t.

Heath says the impetus is now on brands to make the most of consumer enthusiasm for having them involved in the arts and entertainment worlds. But to do this effectively means that the traditional sponsorship model is largely defunct. He warns: “The level of engagement your consumers want depends very much on your brand. There is no one-size-fits-all.”

91% accept or are positive about brands being involved in music, entertainment and culture

69% think brand money would be better spent in areas such as film, theatre and the arts, than in sport sponsorship

64% agree with the idea that brands now have a clear role in arts, entertainment and culture

the frontline

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Wil Harris

Managing director, Channel Flip

The idea of brands getting into content without it being an ’advert’ is definitely receiving more traction. Consumers have always been aware of brands paying for content, but the idea that they want to be entertained by brands is relatively new. The research shows that more than 50% of consumers want brands to entertain them and see it as a purchase driver I’d suggest that’s a conservative figure.

In the Tech Head online series we did for [hair regrowth product] Regaine, we used Richard Hammond from TV show Top Gear. He doesn’t need or use the product but he had a connection with the audience the brand was trying to reach, and the tone was also a fit. The brand recall from some of these activities can be very high.

There are still those brands that want to show 30 seconds of someone driving their car around [in content], but brands need to think about what will entertain consumers first and then how the messaging fits with that. If you start with the messaging and build the entertainment around that, you’ll often find that you are not actually entertaining people.

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Adam Boita

Marketing manager, Absolut

This research corroborates what we are seeing in the market. In the past five to 10 years, the profile of brands at events and festivals has been on the rise, and people are starting to expect them to be part of the entertainment.

Of course, brands have to pick the sector they want to get involved in carefully. Relationships have to be developed and that takes time. You also have to strike the right balance in terms of engagement levels. You don’t want to ask too little of consumers so they walk away, but equally you don’t want to ask too much of them either.

What’s been important for us is being able to act across a number of disciplines in the cultural sector. We haven’t just focused on fashion or music or any one discipline. The 18 artists participating in our Absolut Blank campaign [creating marketing for the brand] are from a variety of creative disciplines drawing and sculpting to film making and digital art. These artists all have creative freedom and that’s vital. The benefit for us is in terms of our credibility in the creative community.

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Helen Harrington

Director brand development, Colt Technology Services

Not only do people now accept branded events or exhibitions, they expect them. As long as the brand is pertinent to the content it can add real value and encourage a positive perception for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business brands. The key success factor is that the brand association is clear.

It’s vital you know your audience. We are targeting chief information officers and IT directors who are time poor and are exposed to huge amounts of branded content. But they are also human beings with a sense of humour. Finding ways of tapping into that emotion en masse is tough.

We don’t have a hugely strategic approach to sponsorship deals at the moment it’s all on a local basis with events such as the Berlin Film Festival and French Opera. We are exploring how we can bring this together and support the areas that will produce the most returns for us.

It was interesting to see from the research that consumers felt money might be better spent in areas other than sport. We have very little association with sport it’s an area where you are up against massive brands with massive budgets.

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Matt Thompson

Group marketing director, Auto Trader

These results show it’s more than goodwill brands will receive from consumers funding content also offers brands the opportunity to build up a more nuanced brand identity and engage with consumers on a deeper level than the product or service they offer would usually allow.

Goodwood offered us the chance to marry the digital world with the physical and engage consumers on both levels. We are now the title sponsor for the Moving Motor Show at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed. It’s an obvious fit for our brand, particularly now that we offer access to new cars through the website and mobile service, alongside our used car offering.

Auto Trader offers motorists digital access to the cars at the show, including images and their key performance stats, while Goodwood allows them to physically interact with these vehicles. The success of the event has certainly changed our view of sponsorship.

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