If you see a line of patrons outside a movie theater April 25, it’s a safe bet they’re lining up to see "Avengers: Endgame." Likewise, if you peek into living rooms across the country April 12 (why would you do that, you weirdo?) you are likely to see a slew of watch parties coinciding with the much-anticipated return of HBO ratings monster "Game of Thrones."
These phenomena are something programmers, studios and brands once took for granted, but today they’re all too rare. They are omni-culture moments, events recounted over coffee and avocado toast in the office the next morning, moments that spur common conversations that everyone is in on.
A Bygone Era
But those conversations don’t happen as much as they used to. From Sam and Diane to Jim and Pam, there was a point when America could maintain focus on one slice of omni-culture at a time.
Today, with the exponential increase of networks, platforms and television shows, our attention is split across myriad live and streaming options, most available on-demand and untethered from programming schedules. Fans of multiple popular shows must adjust to the glut of content, especially when air-times collide.
The omni-culture programming that captivates the entire nation in real time is mostly limited to the Super Bowl, awards shows, and mainstays like Thrones. It’s harder to make the case for live watching when you can binge-watch on your schedule. Most shows barely reach a Nielsen rating of 3.0—once an unthinkably low bar of success.
Many of these shows have large international and streaming bases, but what does that mean for brands? While TiVo and DVR are great for audiences, brands are hit where it hurts—their wallets. Imagine paying top dollar for air-time, only to have viewers fast forward through it. So, in the world of streaming, how do brands capitalize on omni-cultural entertainment?
Time for Innovation in Advertising
Streaming has ushered in a new age for television. Smart brands of late have turned to commercial-free streaming networks like Netflix. They boast ease of access, better budgets, and more leeway for artistry. While traditional advertising is mostly absent on these platforms, there are still opportunities for brand tie-ins.
Premium channels also have more freedom and are known for churning out award-winning shows like Thrones. The number of omni-culture programming opportunities are few and far between. Thrones is not conducive to ad placement, owing to its period- piece dynamic. Viewers would find it highly unusual to watch Jon Snow charge the Army of the Dead in a Toyota Tundra. For advertisers, missing out on such a series is a loss.
Ad placement remains, of course, a leading source of marketing, but with such a limited scope, other methods of brand elevation, in line with this new reality, must be explored.
WIRED Magazine offers an approach with its Autocomplete Interviews. By having actors from notable omni-culture movies and shows answer “the web’s most-searched questions,” WIRED has created a form of revenue that centers on peoples' interests and curiosity. Brie Larson, hot off of her success with "Captain Marvel," has more than five million views on her Autocomplete Interview.
Fandom Culture Pays
Thrones has teamed with sponsors to create innovative brand advertising. Partnerships with Adidas, Oreo, Doritos and Johnny Walker have been successful, thanks to the commanding power of fandom. They have focused on story lines and characters to move beyond commercials and product placement to create their own entertainment.
Thrones fans pride themselves on owning limited edition themed merchandise. They enjoy watching their favorite characters outside of Westeros. Jimmy Fallon interviewed Danaerys Targaryen on "The Tonight Show," reaching 11+ million views on YouTube alone. The Doritos and Thrones Super Bowl ad was the number one Super Bowl commercial of 2018, garnering better than 41 million views. The pièce de résistance? Tyrion Lannister rapping for Missy Elliot. Fans were instantly amazed and Twitter was ablaze.
Releasing native content themed around a specific show, brands can reach a larger audience thanks to viral viewing. An added benefit is it makes brands more personable. It garners good faith among fans and younger generations, inviting new customers.
Fandom culture has moved beyond the doors of Hot Topic to include the average Joe. These individuals increasingly are open to purchasing show-themed products at a premium from brands they don’t use. It builds on a sense of unity and desire for fandom members to share with each other.
For brands looking to tap into these rare omni-cultural conversations, the best strategy is to be opportunistic with ad dollar spends. In addition they should create a stable of content focused on niche shows with strong fan bases to create an entertaining campaign. Branding is an art form, but by combining it with omni-culture entertainment, brands can unlock higher and more profitable successes.
Surya Cherian is a coordinator with RockOrange.