Brands are looking beyond traditional channels and developing new formats to engage audiences.

As content consumption adapts to the digital age, brand touchpoints and media formats are diversifying. Print publications were among the first of the old guard to feel the effects; now, mainstream media is hustling to keep up, pivoting to a new community-based consumption model. Traditional channels are merging and morphing, with online platforms such as Refinery29 branching out into experiences with its 29Rooms immersive exhibit; print titles like Glamour developing into entertainment brands with bespoke video content and podcasts; media conglomerates such as Condé Nast expanding into creative agencies and consultancies with in-house studio CNX; and luxury retailers like Matchesfashion.com shifting to content creation and curation with live-streamed in-studio talks. Even the prestigious cornerstone of culture New York Times is crossing channels, with a television adaptation of its popular column “Modern Love”—which has already found success as a podcast—airing on Amazon in October 2019.

Forced to be creatively nimble in this shifting and mutable landscape, brands are sidestepping the constructs of conventional verticals and evolving into ecosystems, curators, advisors and friends.

Procter & Gamble is the latest example of an established brand breaking traditional category boundaries. In September 2019, the personal and home care behemoth announced a pioneering new partnership with National Geographic, focused on inspiring global activism. “It’s not product placement. It’s not sponsored content. It’s prestige television,” stated Fast Company. Called Activate, the project is a six-part documentary series that features the work of social and environmental activists around the world. It is not tied to retail or brands, but exists to bolster the company’s ethos in parallel to its product portfolio. Procter & Gamble “is genuinely committed to putting social good at the center of its business model,” says Hugh Evans, CEO of Global Citizen, which is coproducing the series. “Activate was a logical extension of that model.”

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Tinder's interactive show, Swipe Night

In September 2019, popular dating app Tinder announced it had recently finished filming an original interactive video series that is slated to launch on October 6, 2019. Called Swipe Night, the interactive experience offers a new way to connect on the app. “As the story unfolds, you’ll face moral dilemmas and practical choices,” Tinder explained in a press release. “After each Swipe Night story release, critical choices will be added to members’ profiles, showing which decisions potential matches did or did not make.” And in April 2019, home rental platform Airbnb announced its plans to develop original shows and content that would promote Airbnb hosts, guests and travel destinations.

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Mailchimp Presents
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In June 2019, email marketing platform Mailchimp unveiled Mailchimp Presents, a new entertainment division creating original series, films and podcasts for entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses. “What Mailchimp Presents allows us to do is liberate ourselves creatively a little bit to be able to tell rich and compelling stories, and let the communication about our platform and our products be a little bit more direct,” said Mark DiCristina, head of brand and Mailchimp Studios. “It’s the awareness layer that we’ve obviously already been investing in, with things like podcast advertising, but it’s evolving and maturing into this storytelling and entertainment space.”

In February 2019, international beauty brand Avon announced the creation of an in-house content studio that will produce and distribute brand and product content to inspire and engage its community of beauty experts.

A slate of retailers are also branching out into content creation, blurring the lines between retail and entertainment. Popular e-commerce platform Shopify expanded into TV and film production with Shopify Studios in January 2019. The new entertainment division will develop docu-series and feature-length documentaries geared at entrepreneurs. In the summer of 2018, UK online retailer Missguided partnered with the hit reality show Love Island, inviting viewers to shop the looks that contestants wore in the dating show via a Love Island app.

With consumers looking to be entertained more than ever, brands are adapting, developing new formats to entice, inspire and engage their community.

For more in this space, see trend #63—“Shoptainment’s latest wave”—in “The Future 100: 2019” report.

Main image courtesy of 29Rooms.