Why entertainment is the most powerful playground for today’s luxury brands.

“Even in the highest echelons of luxury, people don’t just buy products, they buy brands – and increasingly brands that talk to who they are and demonstrate a sense of shared value. Traditional advertising doesn’t do enough to let you build truly emotional connection with your audience, brands have to be more innovative and take more risks ”   

Rankin, Founder, Rankin Creative.

The Luxury industry has historically rested on its laurels, confident in heritage, history and reputation, deprioritising brand building and focusing on product specific narratives. However, to continue to differentiate in the present and build relevance for future generations, finding innovative and authentic ways to build brand will be key to growth.

In a world where it feels like everything has changed, the core of how to build a brand has and will continue to remain timeless; the crucial difference however, being in how to authentically show up and add value in ways that don’t interrupt but contribute to people’s lives.

The Luxury sector and culture have always been intrinsically linked; with the most iconic luxury brands earning an authentic place in cultural stories and spaces, outside of the advertising and product purchase moment. Rolls-Royce, is one of the best examples, across a whole spectrum of culture from Royalty to Rap culture and even earning a pivotal role in hit HBO television series Hacks, where the Rolls-Royce Wraith is a key part of the identity narrative of a leading character because of the intrinsic and extrinsic symbolism of the brand.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Blue Car in Hacks S01E02 “Primm” (2021)

By taking a broadcast mindset and finding the stories beyond their product, entertainment led strategists enable brands to earn a genuine place in culture, straddling multiple audiences, and developing a prestige level of communication that can ultimately become just as valuable as the product the brand sells.

With people increasingly spending more time with media, entertainment brands are merging physical and virtual touchpoints to create immersive experiences. Today’s world of entertainment offers far more opportunities for engagement beyond the standard product placement in a TV show. Luxury brands are experimenting in everything from scripted entertainment series to gaming, fly-on-the-wall documentaries to live-streamed takeovers. One thing is clear: entertainment really is the new luxury playground.

“As a sector, the luxury industry has disproportionate power to literally drive culture forward. Entertainment opens up a whole new form of engagement that offers so much opportunity creatively and commercially, defying category conventions and moving beyond interruption to formats and narratives people will actually seek out. ”   

 Nimi Raja, Strategy & Development partner, Rankin Creative

So, how can luxury brands capitalise on this?

The most forward-thinking brands don’t just think about entertainment as an alternative marketing channel, but embed it throughout their whole strategy. Luxury fashion brand Balmain, has seen success through this approach in their objective to democratise the brand and let younger audiences in (who will eventually trade up to become a commercial audience). Balmain decided to pivot to an entertainment-led strategy over the last four years, across retail, brand and physical experiences. As part of this, last year the brand launched their five-part short-form drama series, Fracture, in collaboration with Channel 4. Focusing on clearly reflecting the brand’s values, rather than explicitly promoting their collections, the series allowed the brand to open up a new form of storytelling that tore up the fashion rule book, allowing new audiences to engage. Similarly, they took on the usual fashion show format, and most recently turned their shows into open air concerts, with proceeds going to charity [red], again giving access to a Balmain experience to an audience who might not yet be able to afford the products, but will begin to build an emotional connection.

Fracture, A Balmain Original Series.

Entertainment studios themselves are increasingly open to direct partnerships, understanding the value in storytelling luxury houses can bring.   In January 2022, luxury brand Loewe partnered with the Academy Award-winning Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli on a sold-out capsule apparel and accessories line that took inspiration from Studio Ghibli’s film, Spirited Away. Likewise, following the success of the Netflix fashion drama series, Halston, the brand partnered with Netflix on a 10-piece capsule fashion collection inspired by Halston’s archive designs and costumes featured on the show.  There’s opportunities for such collaborations to result in more experimental methods of communication: in 2020, Burberry became the first luxury brand to partner with live-streaming platform Twitch, to livestream their Spring/Summer 2021 Show.  In entering the worlds of gaming, anime, and streaming, these luxury brands show an understanding that to today’s luxury consumer, the boundaries between high and low culture are fast dissolving.

To think like a media brand also means to always think format-first (not ad first). We’ve seen this work well for brands such as Porsche, whose YouTube series “The Road to LeMans” was a huge success. Building tension with episodic content, the series learned from the type of native content that naturally appealed to the Porsche enthusiast audience: in-car perspectives, nail-biting race day footage, and authentic interviews with the behind-the-scenes teams. A returnable format that enables Porsche to build equity and return to time and again. 

Entertainment offers countless opportunities for luxury brands. Those brands willing to take a risk and be brave in how they use entertainment will set new benchmarks for the entire sector, shaping the future of luxury at large. By moving away from interruptive marketing formats and overt call-to-actions, and instead focusing on entertainment, brands engage with their audiences emotionally,  enabling them to  enrich their consumers’ lives: providing inspiration and shaping their sense of identity.