Cannes Lions 2022: Is There a Future for Sustainable Brand Entertainment?
Carlijn Postma, Speaker and Author of 'Binge Marketing'
Netflix stock has fallen, the growth of subscribers is declining, they’re now working on an advertising model, the one thing they promised never to do. Was this an unforeseen future of Netflix? Or does it only mark the point that everything turns back to the way it was for marketers: buying the way to reach targeted audiences?
Ted Sarandos, co-CEO and Chief Content Officer at Netflix, was rather laconic about it, as he stated on the Cannes Lions stage: “The original Top Gun video from the ‘80’s had a Pepsi ad in it and that video cost $39.95 at the time.” Although Tom Cruise (aka Maverick) can still fly an F14 (spoiler, sorry), the audience has changed and expects new jets and experiences. Is getting back to adding more commercials the way to go? Or are there other options?
Don’t Interrupt, Engage
The fact that Netflix declined advertisement on its platform originates from the idea that viewers want to watch their favorite series undisturbed and are willing to pay for it. From a company based on subscriptions, this makes sense. They have more control over keeping viewers involved and have them binge the content they offer.
Turning this around, what if brands are like subscription-based companies? Would interruption be their only option here? Or do brands also want to create engaging content that people choose to watch, having them subscribe for the next episode and keeping them involved for next season? Will brands start creating (more) ‘Brand Originals’? Another interesting question: Will more brands enter the market of buying content too? I believe we have arrived in a very interesting era where many, many companies are searching for their gold… something valuable to attract and retain audiences. For creators in (brand funded) film, this means the cake is growing.
The Difference Between a Target Group and an Audience
First of all, brands must realize that viewers have evolved in the experience of binging undisturbed. This means, if you want to reach these rather spoiled streaming viewers, make sure you do it right and engage with the current audience’s mindset, instead of interrupting them with your message.
A first step is to realize you’re not trying to reach your target group, but you are in it to attract and engage an audience. A target group and an audience are two different things. Focusing on a target group is a rather selfish approach of brands. They decide who they want to reach with what message and they pay other companies to get it done. However, an audience decides for itself if it wants to be your audience. When you’re in brand film you don’t want reach, you want an audience. Having an audience is worth much more than reach within your target group.
Don’t worry, you can still use your persona, target group or other description for the media buy and distribution of your trailers. But the actual content, the film or series, should be focused on your audience.
Examples of Audience-Based Content
At Cannes Lions I’ve seen the best of the best in brand film. Still, only a few really reach the Hollywood level of engagement with its audiences. Most of them are great short films that are made to interrupt and surprise. Still great films, but, apart from the award shows, most of these films don’t survive the campaign period. If we really want to change the industry, we’d want to focus on the sustainable approach. That is where I believe the future of brand entertainment lays. So, what are the options here?
Tie in with the Stories your Audiences are Watching
Angela Zepeda, Chief Marketing Officer at Hyundai Motor America took the stage with Rita Ferro, President at Disney Advertising. Hyundai made a big change last year by skipping the Super Bowl ad and investing in a partnership with Disney. Instead of a one off, single use film, they chose the long term, more sustainable approach. The introduction of the new Hyundai Tucson needed a different approach and a longer span of attention than only during the Super Bowl. Zepeda explained that Hyundai came to Disney because they have access to a large and widely spread audience. But the interesting thing is that that wasn’t the only reason. Hyundai said they expected Disney to come up with a creative marketing strategy as they do for their own programming. So it wasn’t just about access, it was about the creativity of the marketers, storytellers and writers at Disney. Although Zepeda and Ferro confessed it was quite a ride to match both worlds, Hyundai’s goals and Disney’s brand, they have managed to create one of Hyundai’s most successful campaigns ‘Question Everything’.
The story of the introduction of the Tucson teamed up with Marvel characters like Loki and Wanda Maximoff at the moment they were premiering on Disney+. Stars including Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff each star in their own commercial based on the series they are in. The campaign also included custom TV ads and digital content across ABC and ESPN, featuring talent and characters from The Bachelorette.
Although we’re still talking ads here, it is a different kind of ad since it ties in with the mindset of the audience. And at least it lasts longer than the Super Bowl ad. Zepeda told the audience this was only the beginning of the collaboration with Disney. I’m curious about what’s next.
Invest in Your Own Film or Series
Ryan Reynolds, also a speaker at the Cannes Lions Festival said something interesting: “I look at brands as IP without a movie.” That is true, but what if brands did have a movie? Or a series worth watching? Wouldn’t it give them a lot of relevant trailers? Would that change the perspective of advertising by brands? Instead of only investing in trailers, also known as ads, invest in a movie or series and earn time with your audience. There is this huge industry that has been around for over a century that knows all the techniques of storytelling and attracting and retaining audiences, similar to what Hyundai did while working with Disney. Rather than partner with another advertising agency, they partnered with creatives that have been winning in an industry that has been engaging audiences for over a century.
Jae Goodman, founder and former CEO of Observatory and also speaker at Cannes Lions, explained that brands have multiple options to engage with their audiences through brand entertainment. But brands can do better, because they are still treating entertainment like a giant ad campaign. Maybe this also refers to Disney and Hyundai? So what other options are there? In his presentation he mentioned a couple of examples like The Day Sports Stood Still and PepsiCo’s Uncle Drew:
The Day Sports Stood Still, a documentary co-produced by Nike’s Waffle Iron Entertainment and Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment. The filming of this documentary started in March 2020, the day sports stood still and Chris Paul, NBA player, called his friend Brian Grazer to document this monument in human history. While the filming continued, George Floyd got killed by police violence which started the rise of the Black Lives Matters movement. Both key values of Nike. So, it makes perfect sense that Nike co-produced this featured film. Interesting thing is that it was bought by HBO Max and can now be streamed on a global scale. Everybody wins.
PepsiCo had already proven that audiences are even willing to pay to see branded content with their film Uncle Drew in 2018. A film based on a viral video that Pepsi created already in 2012.
In his talk ‘Are We Doing Brand Entertainment All Wrong?’, Goodman made it clear that brands should rethink their strategy and relocate their budgets.
A Strategy for All Kinds of Brands
The examples always showcase the biggest brands with large budgets. Although they will start the change, I believe the strategy behind it can work on all levels. We don’t have to buy global content if we only need an audience, for example, in the Netherlands. Buy local, stream local. When you have a niche audience that doesn’t need a mass approach, focus on other distribution channels and other creative ways to create the story. And just use the knowledge from the creators of films and series. After all, everyone wants to develop a loyal and engaged audience. A sustainable strategy with a focus on evergreen content will get better results and costs less on the long run.
The End, or is it the Start?
I believe I can conclude this series of articles with the fact that it is possible to contribute to a more sustainable industry by leaving behind the single use, disposable content approach. Apart from some Lions Winners, I believe especially the speakers at the festival showed that a new era has begun. Cannes Lions used to be an advertising party, but interestingly the area is now dominated by another industry: streaming services and of course some big tech companies. I have good hope that we are finally moving from the 30 second spot into more immersive storytelling taking an example from the creators of films and series. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I took the track of storytelling, but I have seen that the opportunity of sustainable marketing doesn’t have to be the underdog anymore.
About Carlijn Postma
Carlijn Postma is a Dutch marketing strategist. She is founder of The Post, a leading Dutch agency for content marketing. She is a speaker and author, her latest book is called ‘Binge Marketing, the best scenario for building your brand’. The work she does in the world of content marketing is not going unnoticed. Carlijn Postma is an oft-requested speaker at international events. In 2017, she was chosen as the Dutch Content Marketing Woman of the Year. In 2014, she ranked 27th on the international list of the two hundred most influential people in the field of content marketing.