How Brands Can Navigate The Long, Hot, Hitless Summer

Summer is known for sizzling temperatures, beach trips, pool parties and hot dogs. And it's also known for launching a "song of the summer," blockbuster movies and live events, and sometimes breakout TV shows. But suddenly this summer, the hits are few and far between.

Theatrical box office has been a disaster, falling 25% year-over-year. Hollywood disappointment turned to full-blown panic when "The Fall Guy," "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga," "IF" and "Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes" failed to connect with moviegoers. "Bad Boys: Ride or Die" and "Inside Out 2" vastly outperformed expectations and provided some temporary relief, but neither is driving water-cooler discussion like last year's "Oppenheimer" and "Barbie."

Meanwhile, "Pop Girl Spring" largely fizzled, with Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Beyonce, Taylor Swift and J. Lo all dropping highly promoted new albums which failed to resonate critically and/or commercially as much as past projects, and singles that showed little staying power on the charts. Arguably, the "song of the summer" is Sabrina Carpenter's "Espresso," after all the superstars whiffed.



And while Taylor Swift's "Eras" tour broke box-office records last summer, that tour is now winding down, and some of its would-be successors ended before they even began. J. Lo announced a tour to promote her new album, "This Is Me...Now," and when tickets failed to sell, she pivoted to a greatest-hits format. When even that failed to move the needle, she scrapped her entire tour. The Black Keys did the same and fired their management in the wake of that debacle.

The dry spell extends to TV. Arguably the last big breakout hit was "Baby Reindeer," which Netflix released on April 11. The second season premiere of HBO's "House of the Dragon" was down 22% versus the series premiere, while still drawing 7.8 million viewers across all platforms. "Yellowstone" hasn't aired an original episode since Jan. 6, 2023, and CBS is saying goodbye to "Young Sheldon," "Blue Bloods" and "CSI: Vegas."

What's causing this summer drought? Hollywood's pipeline is still light in the wake of the writers’ and actors’ strikes. Cost-cutting at struggling networks, studios and streamers means fewer scripted originals. Inflation-stricken consumers are staying home and spending cautiously. TikTok and other short-form video platforms are changing how people consume content. The Paris Olympics, sporting events such as the NBA Finals, and the Trump-Biden rematch are taking attention away from entertainment. And perhaps our national malaise is translating into "meh" content.

What are the implications for brands navigating a battlefield littered with bombs?

*Turn to TikTok. In a fragmented media environment with no culturally unifying blockbusters, brands need to lean more on social media content creators to get out their message. Many have a larger audience than the biggest hits in Hollywood, and even those with a smaller audience can enable brands to microtarget to niche demographics.

*Stick with sports. Arguably our last remaining cultural unifier is NFL football, which can still draw an audience of 20 million on Sunday nights. WNBA ratings have skyrocketed, with the recent Caitlin Clark-Angel Reese face-off drawing the largest rating for a WNBA game since 2001. Consider connecting with women's sports, golf, baseball, UFC and Formula 1 racing.

*Amplify up-and-comers. If even J. Lo can't sell out arenas, brands are better off finding emerging talent on social media and amplifying them and their work. Think of those old spots from The Gap and Apple that caused earworm songs to go viral, even before we had that term (or social media). Find those songs, and lend those artists your promotional platform.

Just because there's a drought in entertainment doesn't mean your brand has to wither away.

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