The Entertainment Economy: A book review by Bob Morris

The Entertainment Economy: How Mega-Media Forces Are Transforming Our Lives Michael J. Wolf
Crown Business (1999)

Note: I read this book when it was first published and recently re-read it, curious to know how well its core concepts have held up since then. My conclusion is that they have held up very well. If anything, Wolf’s insights are more valuable now than they were then.

According to Michael J. Wolf, “Locally, globally, internationally, we are living in an entertainment economy.” In fact, that is the title of his new book that consists of ten chapters that proceed from an introduction to the “entertainment zone” to a “view from tomorrow.” In between, Wolf carefully examines a full-range of business situations in which entertainment plays an increasingly more important role. For example, he focuses on the fun-focused customer, the e-factor (“there’s no business without show business”), the battle for attention, the struggle for world domination, the genesis of a phenomenon (i.e. whatever redefines “success”), what he calls “enteractivity”, brand empires, and the role of sponsors.

Wolf observes, “Within its home turf…entertainment is in many parts of the world the fastest-growing sector of the economy. This is as true of developing countries as it is of mature ones. But of even wider impact is the way entertainment content has become a key differentiator in virtually every aspect of the broader consumer economy.” Moreover, “…where America’s entertainment economy goes, the rest of the world is not far behind.” Although he does not state it explicitly, Wolf views “entertainment” from two quite separate perspectives: entertainment as a commodity (films, videos, radio and television, concerts, athletic events, etc.) and entertainment as a strategy (e.g. to create a sense of being “entertained”). As Wolf explains, not all commodities are inherently entertaining but it is possible to nourish the appeal of virtually all commodities by use of appropriate entertainment principles.

In this respect, Wolf seems to agree with Bernd Schmitt and Alex Simonson, co-authors of Marketing Aesthetics. Consider Williams-Sonoma which attracts customers to its upscale stores with the aromas of fresh-baked bread and fresh-brewed coffee, produced on-site by appliances it sells. Schmitt & Simonson assert that marketing is most effective when it appeals to most (if not all) of the five senses. Wolf would no doubt confirm that the nature and extent of that appeal will usually determine the nature and extent of a consumer’s sense of being “entertained.”

Every retail merchandiser should ask, “Who buys what we sell? Which images will be most appealing? Window displays, posters, counter-top promotions? Which aromas will be most appealing? Gourmet coffee, popcorn, chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Which sounds will be most appealing? Bach, Hole, Dwight Yoakam, Celine Dion?”

Wolf characterizes Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, Sumner Redstone, and Rupert Murdoch as “the conquistadors of modern business.” Why? Because they and their associates understand so well that entertainment (both as a commodity and as an influence) has an almost unlimited global audience. To Wolf’s credit, everything he says is directly relevant to almost any organization, regardless of size of nature. If an organization does not understand The Entertainment Economy, it probably doesn’t have much of a chance of survival. Those interested in this book are urged to consider, also, The Experience Economy and Experiential Marketing.


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