If there’s a message for the wider media industries from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, it’s this: content is king.
Of course, content has always ruled the roost in certain areas but when you have such unlikely firms as Dunkin’ Donuts reinventing themselves as media companies in order to better ride the wave of public engagement, you know a tidal shift is taking place.
The days of the static ad campaign, it seems, are over.
No more will TV spots, display ads and online banners be enough. Today’s most successful campaigns are content driven, often interactive, and increasingly hard to separate from the traditional content surrounding them.
As the message changes from ‘please buy our product’ to ‘please engage with our brand’, the creative challenges will only become more pressing.
Take, for example, the big winner at Cannes Lions: Australian Metro’s Dumb Ways to Die. This sprightly and witty animation sends its message of rail safety by showing a series of cartoon characters meeting whimsically grisly demises. You wouldn’t bait piranha with your private parts, it suggests, so why mess around on a train track?
The ad works thanks to its appealing visuals and catchy hook, but it has spread far beyond its intended audience of local Australian commuters. YouTube views have topped 50 million, while the characters have spawned their own mobile phone game. Rather than a simple safety message, the Metro now has a brand in its own right, that will no doubt continue to spin off into other media.
More pertinent is the show’s other big winner, Intel and Toshiba’s The Beauty Inside. This six-part digital drama followed Alex, who wakes up every day as somebody new. The film was collaborative – viewers were invited to appear as different versions of Alex – but also had mainstream credibility, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead starring, and Topher Grace narrating as Alex’s inner voice. Toshiba laptops are seen onscreen, but there’s no overt advertising message – the campaign works just as well as pure entertainment.
This, it seems, is the future of marketing and advertising as media continues to leak across previously impervious barriers. As the message changes from “please buy our product” to “please engage with our brand”, the creative challenges will only become more pressing. The TV and digital companies that thrive over the next decade will be the ones which rise to those challenges rather than leaving them to ad agencies alone.