The Vanilla Content Issue

Focus on discovery and audience participation and your brand won’t have to work so hard to get noticed in a blizzard of blandness.

It’s no surprise to learn that attention spans are dwindling. The WARC Guide To Planning For Attention reports that just 52% of viewable ads are looked at for an average of 3.3 seconds. Yet Film Craft Jury President Kerstin Emhoff, Co-Founder of Prettybird, said that, this judging season, there were hardly any 30-second spots vying for a Lion. The winning work was engaging in itself, not engaging for an ad. “Advertising is normally disruptive,” says Emhoff. But now that audiences can opt out of that, brands need to create work people will actively seek out and share. “They need to discover something that’s going to capture them, and that is a different set of rules.”

Collaborate with consumers

Audiences are tired of brands competing over who can shout the loudest. Sometimes it’s better to sit back and hear what your potential customers have to say. “Listening is as important as acting,” says Debbi Vandeven, Global Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R, Global and Social & Influencer Lions Jury President. “If you do really active listening with the social community, you can find out so much you can change products and address issues that aren’t working. And if you surprise and delight on social, it pays off.” Talk with your customers and ask for their input. When Cheetos asked the world to submit to the Cheetos Museum, it resulted in the strongest sales week in Cheetos history. “Co-creation is vital if you want to continue to build fans that truly love your brand,” says Frito-Lay Chief Marketing Officer Rachel Ferdinando.

Ask your customers to participate or, better still, provide a community with a piece of your brand to create with however they choose. Highsnobiety and Mattel did just that with Mattel Creations, giving out Barbie and Hot Wheels design assets for anyone to use. The point, as Mattel COO, Richard Dickson says, is “to invite them to create with us, using our brands as a canvas for conversation that ultimately we can sell and create stories for.” The content that comes out of it will give brands the cultural relevance they crave.

Ellie Doty, Chief Marketing Officer, North America for Burger King explains the company’s shift in emphasis with its consumers - from being a kingdom to becoming a fandom.

Watch the Burger King and Jones Knowles Ritchie keynote On Demand.

Paint an unusual picture

Stop telling, start showing, and do it in a way that no one would have expected. This tactic cropped up repeatedly in this year's Lion-winners. Burger King’s Outdoor Grand Prix winner ‘Moldy Whopper’, highlighted the brand's free-from-preservatives announcement. ‘The Long Goodbye’ wordlessly explained WeTransfer’s commitment to the creative community. And Three’s ‘The Connected Island’ showed how expansive the telco’s B2B offering was, without featuring any past corporate customers.

“Dry testimonials won’t do it,”

says Rory Hamilton, Chief Creative Officer of Boys + Girls Dublin, the agency behind Three’s Gold Lion winning work.

“Instead, if you can find human stories as a proof point…it can be really engaging and really powerful.”

Creative Strategy Jury President and McCann Global President, Suzanne Powers, described the work as “basically the best product demonstration in the history of product demonstrations.” It sent the message in an unexpected way.

‘#WombStories’, from Libresse,

AMV BBDO London and Chelsea Pictures in LA, picked up Grands Prix in both Film and Film Craft for taking audiences, of all genders, on an emotional journey. “A lot of the men on our jury said: ‘I felt that,’” says Emhoff. “That’s what viewers want, they respond to things that they can feel.” Consumers engage with emotive, surprising messaging, not a quantifiable list of all the things your brand has to offer. As Klarna Chief Marketing Officer David Sandstrom said:

“We don’t believe you can rationalise or explain yourself to people’s hearts.”

The Connected Island | Three Ireland

Boys + Girls Dublin

Winner of a Gold Lion in Creative Strategy and a Bronze Lion in Brand Experience & Activation

Do the groundwork

It’s not enough to share good content and hope it catches on; there needs to be a strategy in place for it to gain real traction with consumers. Cheetos won the Creative Strategy Grand Prix by doing just that. Before the brand’s ‘Can’t Touch This’ spot aired at the Super Bowl, the team at GS&P spent months making sure bright orange Cheeto dust was a topic of conversation. “One of the lesser known parts of the case is the campaign before the campaign to actually name the dust, Cheetle,” says Ralph Paone, Group Brand Strategy Director. “That was several months of effort for us to get the word out there, to seed the name Cheetle into culture, and to give it a life of its own beyond the TV spot... that effort is part of what gave it that magic." Klarna used a similar tactic with ‘Smoooth Dogg’; the Nord DDB social team started the rumours that ‘spontaneously’ began to circulate. And, in the lead-up to Reporters without Borders’ work The Uncensored Library, agency DDB Germany compared Google data on ‘censorship’ and ‘gaming interest’ in various countries, to figure out where the Minecraft library would have the most impact. As Vandeven said: “You have to do the work, you can’t just put your brand on there.”

Anna Olivemark and Andreas Dahlqvist use the real-life Nord DDB case study of Klarna and Snoop Dogg’s name change to emphasise the importance of organic reach being ‘social’ enough to appeal to audiences.

Watch the full video On Demand

It’s still important to surprise and delight. “Joy” was seen in 10% of all entries to the Outdoor Lions this year, and in 20% of the Entertainment Lions for Music. In the Film Craft Lions, out of the 65 Lions awarded, a staggering 51 wins related back to two themes: “Uplifting” and “Brand Building”. So, as well as sending out positive vibes, content is being used to make a big impact.

Shortlists and winners in both the Film and Film Craft Lions were dominated by work focused on Brand Building. While, in the Design Lions, one third of the work was looking to Drive Behaviour Change. This kind of influence isn’t achieved by simply producing a piece of content, brands need to build a strategy to effectively launch their content – even if it’s on social media.

Interrupting is no longer the best choice for brands. Better to develop work that consumers want to engage with, either because it’s unusual and inspiring, or because they participated in its creation. Co-creation was a prominent theme at the festival this year. In the Social and Influencer Lions, 47% of the winning work featured in the Participation and Community category. While, in Real-time Response category, 36% of the winning work made use of consumer-generated content.

To discover more insights and content on this theme,

watch this selection of films on demand on Cannes Lions Live.