"The Three Little Pigs" is one of the more sinister fairy tales, with the heroes constantly on the precipice of becoming bacon for their lupine stalker, who, ultimately, is boiled to death. But this year, the story became even more twisted in The Guardian's magnificent retelling from BBH, London -- a two-minute brand film hailed by the industry as a front-runner for a Cannes Lions' Grand Prix. Directed by Ringan Ledwidge of Rattling Stick, the film shows how the convergence of print, digital and broadcast news as well as social media can call into question our assumptions about the classic tale: "Were the pigs really the good guys? Was the wolf all that bad?"
The spot, accompanied by a series of gorgeous data-themed print ads, illustrates The Guardian's "Open Journalism" philosophy. Under the guidance of Editor Alan Rusbridger, the news organization has been on a mission to become an informational hub that leverages not just the skills of its own journalists but also the voices of the general public and even its critics through various digital tools and platforms to present a "better approximation of the truth," as Mr. Rusbridger said on The Guardian's site.
But marketing-wise, until "Three Little Pigs," it hadn't done much to promote Open Journalism, said David Pemsel, The Guardian's new chief marketing officer. In fact, its last bold brand statement was in 1986, with the famous black-and-white "Points of View" spot that depicted what appeared to be a simple mugging -- until it revealed the scene from different camera angles.
Mr. Pemsel, who was head of marketing at TV network ITV and also worked at agencies such as St. Luke's and Ogilvy, originally came onboard last fall to consult on a brand campaign to illustrate Open Journalism. But before The Guardian could even think about approaching an agency with a brief, it had to solidify its own message in-house.
Mr. Pemsel and his team worked with Mr. Rusbridger and Guardian Media Group CEO Andrew Miller to turn the Open Journalism philosophy "into a brand proposition, something that consumers will understand," said Mr. Pemsel. "The trouble is, you can talk about that internally. ... But your average person will just say, "Isn't The Guardian a newspaper like all the others that's just struggling to become digitally relevant?'
"Turning "Open Journalism' into something that consumers understand was one part of the brief," he said. "The second part is "How do we portray ourselves as being more than a newspaper?' We needed to make sure the brand campaign put The Guardian front and center of what we believed modern, open and digital journalism is."
A third part involved changing consumers' perception of the brand in terms of being "modern, innovative, multiplatform," said Mr. Pemsel.
With its marketing mission aligned, The Guardian then invited three agencies to pitch -- incumbent Wieden & Kennedy London, RKCR/Y&R and BBH, London. BBH's winning presentation included the "Pigs" idea, plus other executions involving Cinderella and Humpty Dumpty.
"One of the key territories they came across was "Can we apply Open Journalism to very well-known stories and demonstrate how they would twist and turn in the modern age?'" he said.
The spot made its debut Feb. 29 on the U.K.'s Channel 4 as well as online. Although it was only broadcast in the U.K., the film quickly became a global phenomenon -- garnering media attention from NPR to BoingBoing. By The Guardian's count, it has generated 82,000 tweets and more than 2 million views online, a third from the U.K., a third from the U.S. (which, arguably, will only help the brand's U.S. ambitions) and another third from the rest of the world.
For the film's launch, "we had our biggest advertisers and chief execs of media agencies here for a dinner, and we showed them the ad live," said Mr. Pemsel. "[Simultaneously] we watched the hashtags from our Twitter accounts go completely mad. It's one of the most nerve-wracking things for a marketer to basically have live research happen, but the outcome from that was quite extraordinary."
Outside of the positive social-media numbers, he said the dials moved significantly in terms of changing consumer perception of the brand. "Essentially, the people who saw the ad -- and we've got loads of statistics to back this up -- were more likely to describe The Guardian as modern, progressive, international and open," he said. "The Guardian is predominantly known as a newspaper, so to be able to change what are quite entrenched metrics at those levels in an incredibly short amount of time was extraordinary."
In terms of lessons learned, "I cannot wait to take this combined presentation out to students or other marketing directors because it has reconfirmed my belief that there is this inextricable link between the power of television and the power of social," said Mr. Pemsel. "They work hand in hand, and if you can get the right disruptive campaign on television, amplified by posters and press, you can then capture all that social traffic that benefits the brand. And the idea that social and digital platforms will kill television -- this completely shows you the way in which they have to work together."
Strategy at the Core
The tricky part is getting it right. How do you carve a path for achieving work that people will want to pass around? "For me, it all comes down to strategy," said Mr. Pemsel. "If you've got your whole argument sorted out -- from who the target audience is, what it is you want to achieve, an articulation of the brand or product, and a very clear idea of what success looks like -- by the time the agency gets involved, it's really clear about what you want them to do. If you go to an agency and you've got a very half-cooked version of what that strategy is, what you're doing is you're asking the agency to resolve the strategy through different creative ideas. And then you get yourself into a real mess."
Going forward, Mr. Pemsel said BBH has a new assignment. "One criticism you could lay out about the current campaign is that it doesn't invite participation. It's not as true to our "Open' philosophy because it's quite assertive -- it says, "This is who we are.' The brief that BBH is now working on is "How do you apply "Open" to the campaign idea?' We've got to be more aware of creating an environment in which people can actually do something with [our message], rather than just send it "round the world," Mr. Pemsel said. "The next version of this will invite people to do something with our content. The metrics will be even tougher then. We want to see them change, but we also want to see levels of engagement and participation with that content."