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To Win at Cannes, Branded Content Should Put Narrative First



There was no Branded Content Grand Prix awarded last year. Shannon Pruitt, President of The Story Lab, Dentsu Aegis Network’s branded content agency, ponders why and how this year could turn out differently

To Win at Cannes, Branded Content Should Put Narrative First

If you look up the definition of Branded Content on Wikipedia, the first thing you will see is a headline stating, “This article has multiple issues,” one of which is that the entry is “subjective.” True story.

In 2014, the Branded Content jury at Cannes surprised the industry when they did not award a Grand Prix. While the jury praised the work overall and handed out 11 Gold Lions, jury president Doug Scott explained that no single entry displayed all of the craft, digital, and social elements required to elevate it to the top prize. Jury member Justin Wilkes added that the lack of an award was “a challenge to the industry to step up and tell those stories and look at those platforms that have narrative at their core." Also a true story.

Not everyone agreed with their decision, and some were left wondering if a Grand Prix wasn’t awarded because there was still ambiguity regarding how we define branded content. I mean, if Wikipedia can’t define it…

According to Scott, content at its best is "marketing so good that consumers don’t know it’s marketing." And that’s true, but I would add that it also needs to serve a purpose. Branded content is a way for brands to tell their story – what they stand for – in a way that is relevant, meaningful and useful to consumers. Content is a brand’s chance to connect and engage with people about what they want to talk about, not what the brand wants to talk about. 

One of the best examples of this articulation dates back to the very first Branded Content Grand Prix in 2012. Chipotle’s ‘Back to the Start’ campaign stood out from other noteworthy work because they used their brand story to create content that found a way into people’s hearts and minds. Chipotle stands for sustainable farming, and ‘Back to the Start’ was able to elevate that brand narrative above their category and into the cultural zeitgeist. Chipotle told their story across multiple channels in their brand ecosystem – TV, digital, experiential and even music – and made sure their voice was consistent, relevant and interesting at every point. But it all started with a great story… one that was both true to the Chipotle brand and would be valued by their audience (and their audience’s audience). Chipotle understood how to adapt its work across channels and connected areas of interest, and the sum was greater than the parts. And that connectivity earned them many brand evangelists – not to mention a Grand Prix. 

At The Story Lab, we believe brands must be the experience that consumers want to engage, feel compelled to share, and evangelize. Become the entertainment, and not the disruption.

Be relevant to consumers, or risk being graffiti. The brand that can communicate their narrative while providing utility has earned the right to connect with consumers – and possibly even a 2015 Branded Content Grand Prix. Good luck to all of this year’s Branded Content entrants, and may the best story win.

Shannon Pruitt is President of The Story Lab, Dentsu Aegis Network’s branded content agency

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