This month, the Entertainment team at H+K London held the latest in our virtual roundtable event series. There was no table, but we did have a theme –  ‘back to live’– and some great speakers from the worlds of music, gaming, sport, film and broadcasting join the conversation. 

Our creative strategy team highlighted three trends in the entertainment space as the world starts to tentatively open up, and we discussed what trends and behaviours will endure as we begin to shift from time spent in a home environment to more time out and about. From streaming, gaming, reading, digital music platforms and online socialising – to the opportunity to visit pubs, bars, restaurants, go to the cinema, a gig, maybe even a nightclub. 

The pandemic has caused a massive acceleration of social and online entertainment in a variety of formats, with new audiences adopting online platforms far quicker than predicted. We’ve seen brands innovate in how they reach audiences in the absence of physical events – Louis Vuitton swapping fashion runways for Animal Crossing, Travis Scott adopting the Fortnite map as his concert arena – now that choice starts to return, what will remain, and what will go back to what it was? 

Personally, I’ve loved seeing people getting mangled enjoying themselves at the Liverpool test events at Circus nightclub and seeing Blossoms headline Sefton Park, as well as the Brits welcoming back a live audience and rewarding key workers in the process. I feel like marketeers and media are ruining the phrase ‘The roaring 20’s’ before it’s had a chance but I’m sure most of us can get on board with the notion in spirit. 

There remains a lot of uncertainty for the months ahead, and rather than make broad, sweeping predictions, we looked at three specific areas we feel offer food for thought as our options in comms, and as people, open up. 

Local pride 

For most of us, over the last 12 months or so our world shrunk. We’re shopping, socialising, doing more stuff within a small local circle. That’s not new news. 

While that newfound local reliance was driven by necessity, what we feel will endure is the emotional bond it created. The appreciation of our local environment, people and businesses that make communities. 

A lovely example of that local pride is ‘Zizmocore’ – a style of dressing that involves wearing merch from places that are authentically New York. 

In the beginning, the city had been hit harder by the pandemic than most places in the US. More people in New York started buying and wearing fashion that signalled neighbourhood affiliation. The trend went from fashion statement to something more political. People wanted to support their local businesses and wearing the shirt could mean saving your favourite bar. The Guardian featured a round up of a similar trend in the UK, with much loved eateries including Mangal and Crazy Pedros doing a roaring trade in merch during the pandemic. 

A brand activation that tapped into that local authenticity and caught our attention was the New Balance concept store that opened in Tokyo’s historical Nihombashi district. The sportswear brand modelled its concept store on a traditional Japanese tea house, using materials that are 120 years old and synonymous with the history of the district. A far cry from the vintage college-style aesthetic and US heritage the brand is famous for. 

How big, global brands can adapt and feel authentically local, will be a fascinating challenge, as audiences are increasingly tuned in to their local community and attach value to small and local, over big and global. 

Bringing back the fun 

The heartfelt, feel-good, shot on a phone, showing a human side, pull on the heartstrings style of advertising was on full rinse and repeat mode for many brands last summer. So much so that, well-intentioned as they no doubt were, they blurred into one generic, cut and paste the logo campaign, and lost impact in the process.

Now, as optimism increases, it feels like the shackles are coming off a bit, and a few brands are breaking from the formula and becoming braver. 

The Wrigley’s Extra ad is probably the most obvious example of that –  going all-in on the opening up message with aplomb. See also Budweiser embracing reduced restrictions by offering a round of beers to those vaccinated. Or Burger King giving whopper lovers the chance to book a free burger in December 2020, via their app, to be redeemed from January ‘21, giving their customers something (flame-grilled) to look forward to.

How brands balance their tone between positivity, whilst being sensitive to the fact the past year has been difficult for many, will be an interesting balance to strike. Looking at how they can add some value –  be it through free product, inspiring optimism, or simply entertaining – is a good place to start. 

New fandoms + formats 

Online entertainment of all types has unsurprisingly seen staggering growth over the past year. No doubt some of that will drop, now people start to have more IRL options, but what will stick are highly engaged communities and audiences creating new cultures through online entertainment and social interaction. 

Female-led lifestyle brand Queens Collective is a great example of how the outdated cliches of the gaming space are being busted open, and how exciting, vibrant and diverse communities are flourishing in the world of gaming and social entertainment. 

Verzuz – created by hip hop heavyweights Timbaland and Swizz Beats in April 2020 – was one of the most popular series of entertainment content in the past year, bringing huge numbers, massive music stars, and sustaining its momentum. Another piece of innovation borne from necessity (no live music). Will its popularity continue as live music comes back? Tik Tok rival Triller thinks so, who bought Verzuz in March this year

The complicated, fragmented world of entertainment, where all forms crossover and compete with each other – all vying for the valuable leisure time of the world’s population, who have an almost infinite supply of entertainment available at their fingertips whatever they’re into – has been turned on its head over the past 18 months. 

Few industries have been as affected as entertainment, arts and culture. Some have sadly suffered, some have flourished. What endures, remains, and returns over the coming months is yet to be seen, but it will be fascinating to watch it unfold.