Shailja Varghese
Jun 30, 2016

Cannes 2016: Most Asian branded content perceived to be sporadic sparks

Despite Asia's economic might, smaller content budgets may be inhibiting the potential of the region's performance in branded content, says Shailja Varghese from Brand New Media.

Cannes 2016: Most Asian branded content perceived to be sporadic sparks

I have spent the last week judging the Lions Entertainment category at Cannes Lions 2016. I was one of the four judges from the Asia Pacific region, so I took my task very seriously. It has been one of the most creatively invigorating experiences of my career. The share of voice of Asians in jury rooms is key to get the cultural context right in the debates and discussions lest Asian work gets lost in translation.

Our jury president Jae Goodman opened with the statement “ entertainment should become culture”, which I agree with. Branded content has gone through a paradigm shift and it’s about finding the spot which intersects brand purpose and consumer need, to create contextual storytelling which will lead to behavioural change. 

We selected our Lions Entertainment Grand Prix with this in mind. It was ‘Displaced' for The New York Times. This virtual reality experience was honoured by the jury for its experiential power, placing viewers directly inside the global refugee crisis and signalling VR's arrival into the mainstream.

The overall selection process was not easy, with a month of pre-judging prior to landing at Cannes and then narrowing down from 1,843 entries to 61 winners all in one week. I noticed interesting trends, for example, there were lot of entries from U.S. on gun culture and rugby, on basketball from Philippines, on social change from Brazil, on fiction films from France, on sports entertainment from Australia.

In my opinion the Asian market, especially India, China, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and a few emerging markets like Indonesia and Philippines, is leading creativity. This is supported by fusion of data and tech. Asian entries were the ones which created interesting conversations in the jury room due to the uniqueness of formats, emotional storytelling or quirkiness that simply could not be ignored.

However, this is not understood so well when it comes to global creative forums like Cannes Lions where primarily US and UK entries are heavily awarded and the already-low representation from Asian markets perceived to be sporadic sparks of brilliance rather than the norm. So perception superseded reality.

This is quite contrary to Asia being the most populous continent, with its 4.3 billion inhabitants accounting for 60 percent of the world's population. This clearly indicates the economic might of the region does not match its metal performance at Cannes, possibly because of smaller content budgets in Asia. High entry and travel costs also inhibit most independent creative content houses from participating in Cannes Lions.

I am sure Asian marketers will try harder to take centerstage at global festivals like Cannes Lions. I can foresee marketers in India and China thinking bigger around mobile, virtual reality, and social campaigns.

Below are the few Asian entries this year which are strong:

'House Of Little Moments’ by Uni-Noodle from Taiwan won a Gold for its cross-channel brand experience.

This was a genuine gem; the craft of storytelling was exceptional with all stories staged in a fictional noodle shop serving fusion Uni-Noodle recipes that are inspired by protagonists’ moods. The theme of each micro-movie is derived from common sentiments and feelings such as from romantic encounters. The recipes of the dishes were available online, and interest in the micro-movies and recipes led the ADK team to actually open a real noodle shop. This is a perfect case of "reel life meets real life". Awesome.

'#ShareTheLoad' for P&G India won a Bronze in Online Fiction. 

This video is a heartwrenching short story of a father who apologises to his daughter for having been the wrong role model. It is about gender inequality at home that resonated with audiences as it was shared widely on social media and crossed 50 million views in less than 50 days. This is a perfect case of how a brand can create deeper social change by breaking the pattern of generational prejudices.

'OrangeAid's Last Day of School' by NTUC Income from Singapore won a Silver in TV & Broadcast Fiction Film. I loved the film because of its script, direction and casting. It raised the issue of inequality in Singapore, and increased the brand awareness of NTUC Income as a cooperative that was doing good.

Shailja Varghese, head of content solutions at Brand New Media.



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