Opinion

Lessons from the Cannes jury room: Asia should stop producing brand content that feels like advertising

Josh BlackIn this guest post, Josh Black looks back at the experience of judging the Branded Content and Entertainment Lions at Cannes, and wonders where Asia is going wrong in this fast-growing discipline.

The dust has settled on another Cannes Lions. While the industry debates the merits of the show, and there are arguments on both sides of the fence, the long flight home to Asia gave me time to reflect on the lessons learned from the Branded Content and Entertainment Lions and what it all means for advertisers, brands and content producers moving forward in this part of the world.

As one of twenty judges in the first ever Cannes Lions Entertainment Awards, I was exposed to work entered in dozens of the Lions Entertainment categories, work that took over 100 hours of my time over the space of around five weeks to judge.

Before we even arrived at Cannes, we had already pre-judged close to 500 entries and then at Cannes, we judged 1,200 entries across four days before arriving at the shortlisted work. The fifth and final day of judging went late into the next morning as we selected the very best of the work for the awards and Grand Prix.

Several great pieces of work stood out for Asia – NTUC Income’s ‘OrangeAid’ campaign from Singapore [by BBH] took home a Silver Lion and Uni President’s ‘House of Little Moments’ campaign for Uni-Noodles Taiwan [by ADK] achieved an even higher grade, winning gold.

ADK Taiwan's Lion-winning team, pic: Josh Black

ADK Taiwan’s Lion-winning team, pic: Josh Black

Apart from these two campaigns though, there wasn’t a huge amount of other Asian work that stood out for awards. So what are the lessons for Asia and where are we falling down?

There are two big barriers right now – intent and expectations.

I think that advertisers in Asia need to come to grips with both intent and expectations if we want to produce better work that builds deeper connections with viewers that is transcendent.

First, when I talk about intent, I am referring to what the intent is behind the piece of work. Was the work created to entertain, add value or drive a cause?

BBH's Lion-winning team, pic: Josh Black

BBH’s Lion-winning team, pic: Josh Black

Right now, I think the intent of many advertisers in Asia is to actually use brand funded content and entertainment as another way to push a product message to drive a sale – they see it as a softer or lighter version of advertising.

When you start looking at brand content through this lens, as an advertiser, you start to focus more on the placement of the brand within the entertainment rather than what value you are actually adding to the consumer or viewer, and I think that’s an issue. That’s when you become skippable, or worse, interruptive and unwatchable.

Of all the great pieces of content work that I saw at Cannes, from The New York Times ‘The Displaced’, to Norton’s ‘The Most Dangerous Town on the Internet’, through to Ford’s ‘The Family’ and Canada Goose’s ‘Out There’, the clear intent in all these pieces of work was to entertain the viewer. None of it ‘felt like advertising’. It all felt very authentic, legitimate and re-watchable to me as the viewer. It truly felt as though the marketers who wrote the briefs for this work were asking their content partners to produce film that informed, educated or entertained the viewer, rather than to produce something that masqueraded as advertising.

We need to do more of this in Asia.

We need to take these learnings and produce this type of work at scale if we want consumers to value what we do, otherwise, they will continue to see the work we produce for what it is, skippable long-form advertising.

With regards to expectations, my experience is that generally, advertisers in Asia expect content to do far too much for the resources they put against it. Too many advertisers are asking their partners to produce brand funded entertainment at 20% of the cost of advertising and expecting it to achieve better results. It just doesn’t work like that. Similarly, you can’t just produce work and post it to your Facebook Page and YouTube Channel and expect people to find it and view it.

That’s just lazy media planning and I can’t count how many times I saw really interesting pieces of work submitted for awards in the content distribution categories in Cannes that only used these two channels. Facebook’s algorithm means that a fraction of your fans actually see your content and you are competing with thousands of hours of content uploaded each hour on YouTube.

Media planners need to think far more creatively about not only the channels they use to distribute the content, but also partnering with the content producers to create different forms of the content for different channels and audiences.

Creativity is alive in Asia, but unless we approach brand content with the right intent and expectations, we will continue to produce work that consumers just don’t engage with at scale. The future of brand content will be creating quality work with the right intent built off smart thinking, great storytelling and intelligent media planning. It’s a simple formula and if you can get it right, you have a great chance of a consumer hitting the replay button rather than the skip one, and once you can do that, you are on the path to making content that becomes entertainment.

Josh Black is CEO, content, GroupM Asia Pacific. he CEO of GroupM’s Content businesses across Asia Pacific – the world’s largest media investment and management company.

With over 350 staff across 16 markets in Asia, GroupM is one of the industry’s

leading players in content ideation, production, distribution, investment and

management under divisions and businesses including Mindshare Content+, MEC

Wavemaker, Mediacom MBA, Maxus Content, PLAY, Filmworks China, ESP

Properties, ESP Brands and GroupM Entertainment.

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