"Our responsibility was to start to define the category," said
juror Jon Hamm, chief creative officer at Geometry Worldwide. "If
we can't define it at Cannes, where can we?" And so, the jurors
looked at what branded content was in relation to each sub-category
among the 730 submissions -- music, cable, gaming, TV, feature
films and integration. In some categories, it was easily defined as
product placement. For the most part, however, content was
interpreted as something culturally relevant that people invite or
Commercial vs. content
"There's no line between advertising and branded content, no
straight line anyway," said Jennifer Golub, creative director-exec
director of content at TBWA content arm Let There Be Dragons. "It's
more of an ambling brook."
This proved to be the issue some had with Volvo's "Epic Split,"
a short film that featured actor Jean-Claude Van Damme straddling
two Volvo trucks and then lowering himself into a split as the
vehicles increased the space between them. The jury room
discussion, said Mr. Scott, was, "Is it a commercial or is it a
piece of content?"
That debate carried over to Chipotle's "The Scarecrow," a short
film providing commentary on the "big food" industry backed with a
haunting cover of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" tune "Pure
Imagination," by Fiona Apple, and accompanied by an interactive
Another contender was Volkswagen. Following the automaker's
decision to discontinue production of its Kombi van in Brazil,
AlmapBBDO launched a farewell tour for the
bus' last edition. The campaign encouraged fans and longtime
drivers of the car to share their experiences on a microsite,
turning them into a collection of short docu-films. "It was a great
example of an integrated program that was built out of content and
cascaded into other marketing efforts. There was still a story at
its core," said Mr. Scott.
The jury then weeded out noncommercial contenders. "Two had to be
dropped out because they were social issues or social-good
programs," said Mr. Scott. "Then, out of nine, three [Grand Prix
contenders] were Chipotle."
The 'great' debate
Then "Scarecrow" was picked apart by the jury.
"It was great, but was it original? They had done something a
little similar a few years before," said Mr. O'Rourke. (Chipotle
took home the Grand Prix in the category's first year.)
"'Scarecrow' had the game and Fiona Apple song, but wasn't
seamlessly integrated," said Mr. Scott. "It needed to be more than
just a game and more than just a piece of film. You really want to
elevate and raise the bar."
In the end the two contenders were Volkswagen Kombi and Honda's Drive-In project, a
monthlong campaign to save drive-in movie theaters in the U.S.
But what truly did in the entries was that, unlike a commercial,
branded content generally carries its story though varying forms of
media and executions. And in the jury's estimation, the full body
of work by the contenders was not Grand Prix worthy.
The jury reviewed every component submitted by the agencies --
in the case of Volkswagen, for example, there were eight
mini-documentaries -- and in the end, found no contender's body of
work consistently excellent.
The lesson? "We have to try harder," said Justin Wilkes
president - media and entertainment at Radical Media. "Creatives, we can't just
recycle stuff that's been done and seen before. For brands, CMOs or
marketing directors should note that they can't just put any crap
out there with a big media buy and expect people to watch it."