Originality, craft, integration, brand alignment, and most importantly, narrative. Doug Scott, president of Ogilvy Entertainment and Cannes Lions Jury president, declared that these were all lacking amongst the Cannes Lions winners within branded content, leading the jury to rule that no Grand Prix should be awarded.
Scott believes the branded content industry is on the rise, but despite there being good work among this year’s winners, there was “nothing that has moved the category forward”.
It is a controversial decision that the Cannes Lions Jury is sticking by. While I am disappointed that content wasn’t praised on such a global platform, I think the feedback shines a light on how loose the term “brand storytelling” has become.
It should also place a strong onus on brands to rethink how they define the content they produce.
There is undoubtedly some unforgettable creative work among the winners, particularly from those who really stand for something.
Terres des Hommes’ campaign against online paedophilia is shocking yet inspiring. Honda and agency RPA’s‘Project Drive-In’ initiative to save America’s dying drive-in movie trade makes us think about the importance of holding onto nostalgic traditions. Chipotle and CAA Marketing’s beautifully shot ‘The Scarecrow’ forces us to acknowledge the impact of factory farmed food.
Then there are your “just for laughs” types that create brand engagement through entertainment. PHD London’s ‘Lego Ad Break’ and its re-imagining of iconic UK TV ads through the medium of Lego figures has virality written all over it.
As does Expedia and Ogilvy’s ‘Travel Your Tweet Interesting’, which took real Tweets and brought them to life by filming the words as a skit in destinations around the world.
But the more I look at these campaigns, the more it is clear to me that they are just that – campaigns in the traditional advertising sense – and I am compelled to side with Doug Scott and his rationale for not awarding a Grand Prix.
Of the five key elements of branded content that he stated were not all evident amongst the Cannes Lions winners, it is narrative that is the most conspicuous by its absence.
The brands and agencies responsible will argue that there is a brand narrative at the heart of it all, but I would counter that this is not the same as a real story narrative. A real story narrative is what results in two other key pillars of branded content – authenticity and appeal.
Brands and agencies need to ask themselves, “Would this piece of content stand on its own outside a campaign? Why would someone want to consume this?” A campaign is of course important to telling the wider brand story, but it is how well a piece of content can be received in its own right which is the true marker of its value.
Of all the winners there are a handful that I can name as having a truly strong narrative, such as the ‘Sapeur’ documentary from Guinness and the ‘Christmas in a Day’ film from Sainsbury’s – both the work of AMV BBDO.
These both unearth the stories of real people. With humanity at their core, audiences are moved, fascinated, and can empathise and connect. The story is not molded around the brand, rather the brand molds itself around the story, which is the tipping point for when brand storytelling becomes bona fide content.
The Cannes Lions panel “hopes to encourage bolder ideas” in the future, and Doug Scott also, quite appropriately, said: “We as the provocateurs of culture need to push harder with our creative tools and create stories that not only reflect the present but set the future.”
The lack of a Grand Prix is not a branded content crisis, it is an opportunity. The jury is offering up a challenge that brands and agencies should strive to meet head on. I look forward to seeing a real change in next year’s work.
Shafqat Islam is chief executive of NewsCred