Dan Salkey, founder and strategy partner at °Small World, discusses the findings of his company's Entertainment Index™ report and outlines their three golden rules on how to make brands more entertaining.

Today, purpose fatigue, atomised attention spans, the rise of new media and a desire for authentic original content means the ‘old way’ of brand building is being challenged. 

Over the past year my company has been casting an eye over the brand landscape and crunching the numbers on a new class of brands defying the odds and winning Share of Voice (SOV) based on creativity, innovation and entertainment.

Liquid Death, PRIME, Crocs, Duolingo, Epic Games – for them, entertainment is a way of earning the right to grow. It is enabling these brands to garner greater owned and earned reach, and engagement.

Like an excitable Robbie Williams, we researched hundreds of brands to understand entertainment. We picked the top 20 brands, codifying their strategies and tactics.

As part of that research, we created the Entertainment Index™, which ranks all of the brands in the report, as well as their category competitors, with a blended score of owned and earned metrics across social, PR and search. Most importantly, it factors out paid spend to get a totally earned picture – a pure entertainment factor. (Want our full methodology? Ping me a message. An abridged version is at the end of this article).

In this opinion piece, I’ll provide a summary of our top three findings from the report and the three golden rules if you want to become a more entertaining brand. 

Entertainment Brands come in all shapes and sizes

Entertainment Brands aren’t just the plucky challengers of their category. Duolingo, a language learning app, is a market leader that topped the overall rankings (see image 1). They also smashed their nearest competitor Babbel in terms of entertainment metrics. It’s a shining example of the advantage being an entertainment brand can offer bigger brands, as well as smaller brands. For an app that pretty much created its own category and holds 60% share of the market simply keeping up their traditional media spend would likely be enough, but instead, they’re known for dominating TikTok with a larger-than-life green owl. Their entertainment strategy is clearly paying dividends as they mentioned its ability to provide marketing ROI in their Q2 2023 shareholder’s letter. Being in the lead doesn’t mean you need to follow the big brand manual. In fact, with bigger budgets to invest in creative and the multiplier effect of paid media, it can cut costs long term and give them yet another unfair advantage.

The top 20 Entertainers ranked by their Entertainment Index™ score

Image 1: The top 20 Entertainers ranked by their Entertainment Index™ score

Certain categories are entertainment first by default, and therefore harder to win

Certain categories are saturated with entertainment brands and the bar for success has never been higher. Categories like dating and fashion (in particular streetwear) are extremely high interest, meaning every brand leans into entertainment, making it harder to win. It’s why we see dating app and PR Darling Thursday lose out to Bumble by a drastic 26 index points despite seemingly being the more talked about brand (see image 2, graph 4). RTFKT, the digital streetwear player, had the second-highest gap with a 14-point difference between them and Supreme. Certain categories always have and always will be built for entertainment. The greatest opportunities for new brand growth by using entertainment as an unfair advantage are in categories with low interest with brands too reliant on following the old playbook. Just look at Duolingo’s (language apps), Liquid Death’s (water) and Starface’s (pimple patches) success in our index as a signal of this.

The average index scores of 3 sets of brands vs their competitors

Image 2: The average index scores of 3 sets of brands vs their competitors

New media, especially social, is the democratic ‘cheat code’ for Entertainment Brands

Out of 20 Entertainment Brands in the index, 14 of them beat their competitors in the index. When you look at the breakdown of the biggest winners in Crocs, Liquid Death and Starface it’s clear where they excelled most (see image 3, graphs 6 and 7) – Social Performance. We theorised that entertainment media (earned PR and social media) were the real levellers for Entertainment Brands. We were proven right. That’s the case because platforms like YouTube and TikTok are infinitely more democratic than TV. You don’t need to spend your way to the top to succeed, the algorithm favours creativity over pure media spend. For young brands who want to make the best brand-building investment YouTube and TikTok are the most democratic channels to do so. Don’t treat them as ‘always-on’ or ‘hygiene’. YouTube in particular should be considered New TV and measured on the same impact.

A breakdown of the overall scores for 2 sets of Entertainment Brands vs their competitors (Media = total number of media mentions).

Image 3: A breakdown of the overall scores for 2 sets of Entertainment Brands vs their competitors (Media = total number of media mentions)

So based on all this what are our 3 golden rules for success? 

Don’t Neglect Strategy 

None of this flies in the face of conventional marketing – it’s still diagnosis, strategy, then tactics.

Establish your target, find out what entertains them, position around it, and then have fun. 

Master New Media 

Forget TV being the focus unless you can afford prime-time placement. Focus on TikTok, YouTube and PR. When ideating think beyond the 30’ TV script. Ask yourself: What does this idea look like in 15 seconds? What does this idea look like as a content series? What does this idea look like as a headline?

Triple-down on Creativity

And most importantly if you decide to entertain then GO BIG on creativity. Remember if you commit to an entertainment strategy it saves you money on media BUT only if your ideas are genuinely entertaining. Mr Beast spent $1m recreating Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and Mid-Day Squares hired an in-house reality TV team to create an always-on version of Shark Tank x Keeping Up With the Kardashians. What’s your commitment to creativity? 

You can download the full report here

An abridged version of our methodology can be found here.