The second season of Fox Television’s ‘Empire’ landed on UK shores early October (2015) in much anticipation. The Lee Daniels (director of ‘Precious’ 2009 and ’The Butler’ 2013) and Danny Strong written/produced product has caused quiet a sensation since its airing on Channel4’s subsidiary E4. The current 9.8 million viewers for each episode (IMDb) features heavily a New York skyline, but is actually filmed in Chicago.
With celebrity luminaries in the likes of Estelle, Mary J. Blige, Chris Rock, Jennifer Hudson, Ludicris, Snoop Dogg, Kelly Rowland, Al Sharpton, Anthony Hamilton, Naomi Campbell, Courtney Love (just to name a very few – and more to come!), the programme seems to be the largest employer of the African American entertainment industry right now – perhaps over and above Tyler Perry!
‘Empire’ is said to be based on Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ – but with soap opera credentials! Terrence Howard (Lucious) and Taraji P. Henson (Cookie) (both starred together in ‘Hustle and Flow’ 2005) are matriarch and patriarch of ‘Empire’, a multi-faceted, multi-million dollar music business aka the ‘Lyon’s Den’. Lucious discovers that he has a terminal disease. He considers which of his three sons could be worthy to inherit his legacy and wishes to test them, hopefully before he leaves this mortal coil. As he reveals his ailments and plans for prospective leadership, Lucious releases deceit, blackmail and tyranny within the family as each son tries to claw their way to the top. Of course what Lucious couldn’t foresee was his Queen, in the form of Cookie, fresh from a long prison stint after taking the rap for him, coming to ‘get what’s hers’!
‘Empire’ doesn’t come without its detractors, many with valid criticism about representational and contextual discrepancies. Our task here is to investigate how this television product monopolises on its marketing and branding opportunities. What can ‘lowly’ creative businesses learn from the kingdom, which is ‘Empire’?
1. Make sure you know where your business focus is and that everyone in contact with it is crystal clear at all times. So for example, ‘Empire’s’ core focus is music business. Once you’re clear about your focus, think hard about how your product can be translated/transcend beyond its primary platform. The originally scored music in ‘Empire’ can be bought as hard copy CDs (in HMV/Amazon) and streaming platforms such as itunes and Spotify. Of course, as indicted previously, ‘Empire’ attracts some of the most high profile, multi-award-winning musicians in the industry who bring their own audiences to the primary product.
2. Fashion is another fun theme of the series and this is character driven. Cookie, because of retrospective flashbacks that give historical background to the beginnings of ‘Empire’, wears a lot of retro fashion. Often times in the narrative’s present, she still seems stuck in that era with her penchant for screaming leopard prints and furs. Keeping us in the now, the character ‘Anika Calhoun’ (Lucious’s fiancé hilariously nick-named ‘Boo-Boo-Kitty’ by Cookie!) sports slick body-con dresses and smart business suits in a bid to keep an unflustered silhouette. It’s here the primary product extends into the fashion industry with its narrative unfolding via fashion and beauty-trends in media/publications and fashion, hair and beauty bloggers. Often creatives use up-and-coming fashion designers to clothe their actors, which can act as reciprocal product placement and/or merchandising/marketing opportunities.
3. It goes without saying that ‘Empire’s’ social media platforms are seamless and help to continue its narrative beyond our television screens and engage further its audience. Social media as ever, plays a big part of a product beyond its primary platform – it’s here a virtual narrative continues. Think about how you could you weave your product in and out of your social media platforms and return them to your primary platform to build your audience. Some technicalities; try to understand that formats, which appear on Facebook are not necessarily appropriate for Twitter – even though oftentimes linked; and appropriate means what audiences might want to read! So for example, a feed full of hash-tags (in either platforms actually) are generally scrolled through. As well as being more difficult on the eye to read, a feed full of capital letters in social media-speak is interpreted as shouting (why do folk still do this?!). Your message will be lost as you turn off audiences.
4. Could you tap into contextual, cultural or current affairs issues? For example the film ‘Suffragettes’ (starring Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan takes on board current affairs through the discourse around Feminism. It also highlighted diversity in the PR industry or the lack thereof, when its publicity campaign drew criticism in an unfortunately interpreted T-shirt photo-shoot. Additionally, ‘Empire’s’ opening scenes in Season Two included a concert reminiscent of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign when it staged a ‘Free Lucious’ concert. As well, ‘Empire’ carries themes around same-sex relationships and mental health issues. Once you’ve identified your core product you could make contribution in groups, societies and associations in efforts to establish yourself/product as an authority in your field.
Each of the above examples requires the building of relationships between prospective sponsors, marketing, press, PR and other mediums. But what’s important before you engage anyone is that you’re crystal clear about your business core to help the heart of your business prolong the life of your product.
‘How Fox’s Marketing Fanned the Flames of Empire, One of the Biggest New Shows in Years: The strategy behind a breakout hit’: http://www.adweek.com/news/television/how-foxs-marketing-fanned-flames-empire-one-biggest-new-shows-years-162612