Are You Entertained? Eyeing the Past, Present and Future of Branded Content at Cannes

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From its inception as a judging category, Branded Content has always had a shaky presence at Cannes Lions. Infamously, there were even a couple of years where no Grand Prix winner was awarded at all. But why? I’ve found that there are generally two widely accepted explanations. The first is that no Branded Content work was a standout.  I personally think that’s debatable and highly subjective. But rather than go down the rabbit hole of naming projects, I am more interested in the second common rationale: that no winners were picked because people are still coming to terms with what the category means. What exactly is Branded Entertainment or Content?

The answer, I think, lies in the problem it resolves. Today’s audiences have many options when it comes to their consumption of content. They control everything: where, when, how, and what.  In this environment, can traditional advertising even survive? If agencies create traditional ads, will anyone see it and even if they don’t avoid or skip it, will it register?  These were the original questions that lead to the birth of Branded Content. Generally speaking, nobody wants to hear a sales pitch, or product details anymore, especially on mobile, so creators were forced to find another way to engage.

Branded Content’s success, showing regular increases in spend, is that it has proved that rather than “push” brand messaging through traditional ads and large media buys, you can create content that “pulls”. It presents a simple proposition — content (broadly defined) that has two characteristics.  First, and foremost, it entertains. It makes you feel something, provokes laughter and sparks inspiration. Second, its tells you something about the brand – its values, what it believes in – while being more than a logo on a short film. The brand should truly be a player in the story.

If Branded Content has fallen short anywhere, it’s in its fuzzy categorization. That’s why the Cannes Lions merger of the Branded Content and Entertainment categories makes sense. Branded Content is an infuriatingly broad term. Everything is branded content in one sense or another, so the categorization is essentially rendered meaningless. Branded Entertainment, however, is more precise and a better representation of a clear purpose and the new landscape this type of content represents, which is well-reflected in this year’s contenders. The future of this type of content is squarely centered around the concept of entertainment.

The Year of Thinking Differently

If this year’s Cannes Entertainment entrants are any indication, the training wheels have finally come off.  This year’s candidates have moved well beyond conventional, social good documentary.  Brands are experimenting in all kinds of dynamic and unexpected ways.  Along with Entertainment Grand Prix winners Santander and MRM/McCann for their short film “Beyond Money”, the John Malkovich campaign for Squarespace is brilliant example of fun, engaging content that really tells a brand story.  It’s not just a bunch of commercials, as Squarespace is actually helping Malkovich launch his business. The result was a campaign that left you wanting even more.

Another great example is the holiday-themed short film by the English language app Allegro dubbed “English for Beginners”.  The app and its purpose drove an engaging and cinematic narrative that really moved you, stirring emotions and evoking feelings like some of the most memorable Cannes winners from years past. It recalled the first of the BMW Films, “The Hire”, starring Clive Owen that ended up winning the first ever Titanium Lion in 2001. Those were the early days of the internet, so the ability to watch it was a bit limited. Still, I remember that it got me thinking about the future of advertising and the possibilities of really using narrative and cinematic techniques, while featuring the brand and the products.

That thinking inspired our own work at Mustache, like the award-winning “Holland. The Original Cool.” tourism campaign — a 4-year initiative culminating last December — that evolved over time to land firmly in the realm of Branded Entertainment.  The campaign’s “Tale of Kat and Dog” is purposefully a short film in the truest sense of the word.  The brand (in this case, Holland) is interwoven with the story in a natural, organic way, inviting consumers to “feel” the country through laughter, tears, and back again. No forced selling. It embodies an approach that is starting to be recaptured now.

Be Bold with Branded Content

Branded Content is now, rightfully, Entertainment and in order for it to thrive, there needs to be more experimentation among agencies, producers and brands alike. It’s still a daunting task to move inventive ideas through rigid agency and corporate approval processes. Yet, by streamlining the route from ideation to launch, creating more vertical integration of the production process and subsequently driving budgets down, those who produce branded content – or entertainment  – can drive advertisers’ appetite for risk up to release work that actually has Cannes Grand Prix potential in the long run.

About Mustache

Mustache is an agency that creates sleek digital platforms and entertaining content for really amazing clients

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