Cannes Lion: The best story-driven marketing

The Eternal Appeal Of Storytelling by Charlotte Williams, VP of Content, Cannes Lion

It will probably come as no surprise to you that storytelling at scale has been identified as a priority amongst the creative community. Even in our current humanitarian crisis, we have seen how ingenius and affirmative stories can make a huge difference to people’s lives. The age-old craft of storytelling has always been the bedrock of our industry (and, indeed, the Festival) and will continue to be so for as long as the world spins.

There is even evidence to suggest that it is having a creative renaissance. Is it now the time to declare again that annoying and interruptive ads have had their day – and remind ourselves that the best work we see at Cannes Lions is always emotive, persuasive and memorable?

The platforms and channels may be ever-expanding but the creative magic behind great storytelling will never change. You only have to look at the Warc Creative 100 rankings to see just how effective a creative strategy storytelling is.

“People don’t hate advertising, they hate advertising that isn’t relevant to them. Modern Storytelling means telling the right type of stories in the right environment.” – Chris Brandt, CMO, Chipotle

Storytelling as a Creative Strategy

The best story-driven work from Cannes Lions 2019

1. John Lewis winter warmer hits the right notes

Tugging on the heartstrings of people everywhere and an absolute joy to watch, adam&eveDBB London’s The Boy and the Piano for John Lewis and Partners held its own admirably in the battle of the Christmas ads at the end of 2018.

Leaning heavily on some impressive VFX work for its execution, the work took the viewer on a reverse journey through Elton John’s life – from global superstar to young boy receiving a piano as a Christmas gift.

The story was beautifully simple – thoughtful gifts have the power to keep on giving – and with the emotionally-charged ‘Your Song’ providing the soundtrack, it was hard to imagine the audience failing to resonate with an audience.

Wider activities included separate ads for Apple, Microsoft and Lego products – each with its own Elton track – and an Elton John-themed installation in John Lewis’ flagship store.

And the results?

  • Over 50 million views on social (a rise of 62% YoY)
  • Organic shares from celebrities including James Corden and Rob Lowe
  • A rise in overall sales for the period by 2.5%
  • Lions galore – a Gold, two Silvers and three Bronzes at Cannes Lions 2019

2. The New York Times highlights the real cost of news

The US newspaper wanted to illustrate to their target market – the “curious reader” – that good news stories take time and money to create. They wanted to challenge the perception that news is free.

In a wide-reaching piece of work, The Truth Is Worth It, they paired up with multiple agencies (including Droga5 New York) to deliver creative across multiple channels that would help people better understand why the newspaper relies on a pay model.

Some of the most arresting work was a series of non-fiction films that showed how rigor, resolve, perseverance and courage underpin so much of the New York Times’ reporting.

This added up to a hard-hitting, thought-provoking piece of work that struck the right chord and made a very clear case that reliable news – and the truth – is worth paying for.

And the results?

  • More than 1 billion impressions across paid, owned and earned channels
  • Traffic–driving goals and other KPIs exceeded
  • Nearly a million views of content on the NYT’s landing page
  • A Grand Prix win in Film at Cannes Lions, plus multiple other Golds

3. Zulu holidaymakers gently ribbed by hotel chain

‘Mahala’ – a colloquial Zulu word that loosely translates as ‘free’ – became the backbone of a playful radio ad for Town Lodge, part of the City Lodge Group. They explored the idea that, when Zulus go home for the holidays, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The ad was built around a series of cheery songs that raised an inquisitive eyebrow to the tradition of Zulus staying in the rural homes of their families during holiday visits. Creative agency TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Johannesburg suggested to Zulu listeners that it might be better to spend a night in one of their hotels rather than having to make a multitude of sacrifices when staying with relatives – free labour included.

This funny, quirky piece of creative showed an understanding of the subtleties of Zulu culture and was designed, the agency said, to challenge Zulu tradition: “Not all Zulu tradition, just the dodgy bits.”

And the results?

  • A Gold Lion for Excellence in Radio & Audio (as well as a Bronze and Silver)

4. Skittles Vs the Super Bowl

Many brands have tried to divert the public’s attention from what’s happening on the field or the TV during the Super Bowl, but few have tried anything as audacious as Skittles, who created a Broadway musical.

The 30-minute ad, Broadway The Rainbow was performed live in NYC for one time only on the day that the Rams and the Patriots battled it out. For Mars, DDB USA were behind this headline-grabbing creative. It was a piece of work in keeping with Skittles’ “disrupting the predictable” ethos and was announced to the world on Times Square billboards and branded buses.

The show starred Michael C. Hall (of Dexter fame) and sold out (at $200 a ticket) in 72 hours, and the title track – ‘Advertising Ruins Everything’ was even released as a music video. Without spending a penny on the Super Bowl, Skittles ended up with over 2.5 billion earned impressions.

And the results?

  • More than 25 x the viewership that a TV ad gets during the big game’s broadcast
  • Coverage in more than 1,00 publications and news broadcasts
  • Glowing reviews for the show in the New York Times and Washington Post
  • A 5.6% rise in Skittles consumption
  • Four Gold Lions, with a further five Silvers and three Bronzes at Cannes Lions 2019

MARKETING magazine is the Official Cannes Lions Festival Representative for Malaysia.

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