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First Branded Content Grand Prix Goes to Chipotle

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Chipotle's "Back to the Start" film combined with the brand's Cultivate Foundation, a Chicago festival and a new loyalty program captivated the judges at the Cannes Lions festival's first branded content and entertainment contest. The Grand Prix went to the campaign that comprised all those elements, "Cultivate," by CAA Marketing, Los Angeles.

'Back to the Start,' created by CAA, won the first branded entertainment Grand Prix.
'Back to the Start,' created by CAA, won the first branded entertainment Grand Prix.

WHAT IT IS: Chipotle has re-defined fast food, starting a Chipotle Cultivate Foundation; re-invented its loyalty program as the Farm Team, which rewards members for learning more rather than for eating more; and is holding a Cultivate Chicago food festival. What has defined the campaign more than anything is the two-minute film "Back to the Start" that ran online, in movie theaters, and as Chipotle's first national TV ad, featuring Willie Nelson covering Coldplay's song "The Scientist." The spot also ran during the broadcast of the Grammy awards, right after Coldplay's own live performance. The ad takes viewers through one farmer's journey, from a huge industrialized farming compound to one with more-sustainable and humane practices. Chipotle encouraged viewers to download the song at iTunes, with proceeds going to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. The TV component of "Back to the Start" also won the film Grand Prix and a Gold and Silver Lion in film craft.

WHY IT WON: "It wasn't the most talked-about 99-cent burrito," said Jury President Avi Savar, founder and chief creative officer of Big Fuel. "It was about an emotional connection with an audience."

Mr. Savar said the campaign was relevant to both the audience and the brand, had a meaningful business outcome, and proved to be original and inspiring content, as well as showed a brand can have a number one hit song and build games.

"One of the debates was 'is the film in that piece an ad or content?' The fact that it's both is the best thing in the world," he said.

THE JURY: The 16 people on this inaugural jury included four U.S. judges, and a few of the pioneers in branded entertainment around the world, like Argentina's Rodrigo Figueroa Reyes, who started one of Latin America's first branded entertainment companies, Buenos Aires-based Fire Advertainment.

CONTROVERSY OR CLEAR WINNER? Three other Gold-winning entries were cited as contenders. Montblanc International's "The Beauty of a Second" by Leo Burnett Milan "captured user-generated content," Mr. Savar said. Carling Black Label's "Be the Coach" by Ogilvy in South Africa created a new sports event and let fans call the shots. And the "Great Crusade" for Australian airline Qantas by Sydney agency Wonder was a great example of storytelling, he said. For the "Great Crusade," Qantas partnered with Tourism New Zealand to do an online series about a tour of New Zealand by a rugby fan group called the Qantas Wallabies during the Rugby World Cup.

"We would have been happy with any one of them," he said.

What tipped the balance in favor of Chipotle was the way content lived across multiple "touch points," and built one voice across all those touch points, he said.

"The story is core," Mr. Savar said repeatedly.

TOTAL NUMBER OF LIONS AWARDED: A Grand Prix, a very generous 18 Gold Lions, plus 13 Silver and 24 Bronze Lions, for a total of 56 prizes, of which the U.S. won 26.

The gold winners illustrated the potential breadth of this category. Among them were 72andSunny's Kenny Powers MFCEO campaign, and McCann-Erickson's Nature Valley Trail View, which both earned two Golds. Single Golds went to Intel's Museum of Me, out of Projector, Inc. in Tokyo, which transforms your Facebook content into an exhibition of your own life; TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles's GT Academy USA, which turned Gran Turismo 5 video game players into real life racers; and Pereira & O'Dell's "Smokable Book" for Snoop Dogg's new King Size Slim Rolling Papers, the sheets of which you can actually tear off and use to smoke.

WHO ELSE DID WELL: This is another category, like titanium and integrated Lions, that the U.S. dominates, winning a Grand Prix, 10 of 18 Gold Lions, and six of 13 Silver Lions.

LOOKING TO NEXT YEAR: As the first jury for a new awards contest, Mr. Savar said much of the debate revolved around which categories and subcategories should exist, and how best to guide future submissions. In the second year, the jury will either have an easier time, with ground rules to follow, or will do some tinkering of its own as the branded content awards evolve at Cannes.

CHIPOTLE: BACK TO THE START:

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