Branded Content & Entertainment at Cannes Lions 2015, a category that needs reviewing

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For the second time in a row since the category was introduced in 2012, there was no Grand Prix awarded in the Branded Content & Entertainment (BC&E) at Cannes Lions this year. Despite the 1,394 entries there was no nomination that was deemed to warrant becoming part of history. As David Lubars, president of the branded content & entertainment jury and chief creative officer at BBDO, explains:

When you give a Grand Prix, that’s like classic history forever, and the jury and I didn’t feel like any of those quite hit that peak

None of more than 1300 projects were judged to have stood out enough to win the Gran Prix. There were 16 Golds (5 more than last year), and 7 of these were from NGO initiatives that are not eligible for the Gran Prix because of their “social” nature, e.g. Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS Association or The Gun Shop for States United To Prevent Gun Violence.

The Grand Prix has been awarded in the category’s first two years (Back to the Start by Creative Artists Association for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., and  The Beauty Inside created by Pereira & O’Dell for Intel Corporation and Toshiba that was included in BOBCM Vol II), but as David Lubars adds:

This is kind of a new category, and it’s still a maturing category, there still room for growth

However, he also confessed that there was an entry that could have won if it had participated in the BC&E category. Namely, Other Side by Wieden & Kennedy London’s for  Honda’s Civic Type R. Their exec creative director Mark Fitzloff explained why they decided not to nominate the award for the category:

Our entry budget was already used up.

So they had a choice between entering for Film and Film Craft and BC&E. They opted Film and Film Craft where it won two golds, rather than BC&E where it might have won a Grand Prix.  Sometimes, however, you pay dearly for certain decisions.  But perhaps, it’s not entirely the agency’s fault. Perhaps the category has not been clearly defined enough yet, particularly as far as what it takes to be selected for a Grand prix that could be aimed for. This might avoid the issues highlighted by Mediacom’s head of innovation and branded content Mark Fortner who was on BC&E jury this year:

Many of the entrants in the branded content and entertainment category just slapped a logo onto something, or made an integration just for the brand’s sake without any larger narrative or natural partnership.

The need for award shows to grow by introducing more categories can create problems for jurors and entrants alike, particularly with categories that cut across them like BC&E, Digital and Social, which is why David Lubars concludes:

The thing about this category to me is that it’s not even a category anymore — it transcends. It’s just how the world is now.

His comments reinforces those made by formed Cannes Lion BC&E jury presidents, jurors and Grand Prix winners in interviews on BOBCM, so perhaps there’s no sense in talking about BC&E as a separate category. Maybe every ad campaign in the running should instead be judged for the narrative impact, as well as the digital experience and social interactivity.

This is already happening in the historically most prestigious Film category judging by the two Grands Prix this year.  Leica with ‘100’ won because of its ‘totally immersive band storytelling’, and Geico with Family was seen as being innovative by overturning the online advertising model while being ‘disruptive and narrative’ at the same time.

Put another way, is the problem about nominations not meeting expectations or is the category, or perhaps even the Lions Festival itself, not a suitable platform particularly when it comes to branded entertainment programmes?

If we take a closer look at who is actually participating in the festival then it’s mostly agencies, not publishers, production companies or digital platforms. And if we stop and look at this from an Italian perspective, none of the 23 campaigns nominated reached the shortlist, including:  Scattastorie, NX Generation talent show dedicated to the world of photography for Samsung Electornics by production house Yam11020 that aired last Autumn on REAL TIME; publishing houses The Discovery Group and also  Laeffe (Feltrinelli Group) with their Attraverso una lente project for Salmoiraghi Vigano’;  MTV (Viacom group) with the 1-minute videos online series for Bacardi that was broadcast in Summer of 2014;  and also projects from Sky (Your Factor), Rai (Ti connetto i nonni) and the Mediaset Group (OITNB EMOTICONS for Infinity).

Maybe the Cannes Lions intent for the category is not being met by those nominated by the Italian market. But the festival’s definition for the BC&E category is as follows:

The creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand.

On this basis the Italian submissions, match the relevant criteria.  At the same time, the festival points out that when assigning the awards, the jury checks the following:

How a brand has successfully worked independently or in association with a content producer or publisher to develop and create or co-create entertaining and engaging content for their audience. This could be either by creating original content or programming for a brand or by naturally integrating a brand into existing formats by partnering with a publisher or media partner.

Again the Italian projects appear to match the relevant criteria, so what was missing that stopped them getting on the shortlist?

The lack of Italian projects on the short list aside, there are appear to be other issues with the category. For example, if we look at digital integration projects, the only project that included TV was Rabbit race for Media Markt in Germany that was produced by Endemol Beyond. The award winners were also dominated by short form examples (16 gold, 23 silver and 24 bronze), with no awards for formats lasting more than 15 minutes, and were too similar to other categories, i.e. 10 awards to Branded Live Experience operations, 7 awards for Original use of Music, and 7 for Social Media.

A simple comparison of the most “crowded” categories with the “emptiest” one (Fiction TV & Broadcast, Fiction Film, Non-Fiction Film, and categories 15 minutes or over in Length) would seem to suggest that the BC&E category needs a more detailed and refined definition in future. Perhaps this would help motivate content producers to enter more of their projects. It would also be helpful, if the difference between other categories and the BC&E could be clarified, or perhaps make changes, so that submissions for “Films” category (defined as tradition TV and cinema advertising) cannot be submitted into the BC&E one, and that it’s the Cyber category where UGC integration or social media engagement activities are submitted. Otherwise, after a lot of work, we still risk creating confusion not only among communication protagonists, but also among the brand investors.