But perhaps one of the most surprising outcomes of four long, sun-deprived days judging the branded content & entertainment Lions is the degree to which the category has already over-spilled its boundaries. Some of the best and most inspiring work being done in the field is in areas not typically associated with branded content, including user-generated stories, events, out-of -home media, gaming and music.
Of 800 pieces of work entered as branded content, about 10% made the so-called ShortList. Only a quarter of those 84 finalists represented an original scripted or unscripted web or TV series, or an integration into existing programming. Among those are some terrific examples, including K-Swiss' MFCEO with Kenny Powers, Air New Zealand's Kiwi Sceptics and Dewar's The Dewarists from India. (Full disclosure/humblebrag: Denny's Always Open, a web series I had a hand in creating, also shortlisted.) The other three-quarters of the finalists included some really surprising campaigns that stretched (in a good sense) the definition of content.
These included a song created by the Colombian military aimed at 16 hostages with radio access that delivered a message of hope via morse code. They also included: Nissan and PlayStation's GT Academy, which turned video-game players into professional race-car drivers; Snoop Dogg's Smokable Book, a bound book of the rapper's lyrics where each page does double duty as a rolling paper; and Intel's wondrous Museum of Me. From Tunisia came The Return of Dictator Ben Ali, which used posters of an ousted leader to spark fears of his return, spurring previously apathetic citizens to vote.
There were examples of actual cars being used as video-game controllers, jet-sized paper planes being launched into flight and strange objects (watering cans, football helmets) being used as giant Slurpee cups.
Creativity unleashed leads to inspired storytelling.
Juries feel an obligation with every prize they award. As a fellow conference-room captive asked before we cast a vote after a strong debate, "Does this reflect where we want to go as an industry?"
The winning work that emerges in this category hopefully does, showing the way forward to a place where content isn't a separate discipline but infiltrates all forms of communication, with brands tapping the raw power of stories to move people, fuel desire, change perceptions and drive actions.
I'd like to think so, anyway. It helps me justify my week without sunshine.