3 Award-Nominated Campaigns That Show How Content Is Growing Up

A few months ago, Joe Lazauskas, Contently’s editor-in-chief, was selected as a judge for the Digiday Content Marketing Awards. Our first thought was: Wow, there are a lot of content marketing awards. Our second thought was: Now everyone will get to see Joe’s headshot. You see, while most marketers opt for safe choices, Joe is the one who looks like he’s posing for a Mentos commercial. It’s kind of ridiculous, but it also stands out in a good way. It’s a weird symbol for what we look for in content: something that works outside of the box.

Once Joe got the chance to sort through his batch of entries, he came back with two big takeaways: One, there were still way too many people trying to use impressions as the main measure of content performance, even though it’s a meaningless metric that should’ve died in 2008. Two, a handful of companies were legitimately pushing the boundaries of content marketing.

After Digiday announced the finalists for the awards last month, we spoke to the people behind three innovative campaigns to find out how they were able to make such a strong impression on their target demographics—without needing to care about ad impressions.

RPA & Intuit QuickBooks: Small Business Big Game

Finalist for: Best agency/client collaboration

If you’re going to produce a Super Bowl commercial, you have to come correct because 160 million people are going to scrutinize every line, joke, and frame. Even if you do manage to please the masses, people will likely forget your work after a few months. Super Bowl marketing has become such a spectacle that brands don’t have much room to reinvent the wheel anymore.

Those truths make it all the more remarkable that Intuit, and it’s agency RPA, managed to create a unique legacy with its Super Bowl campaign: Small Business Big Game.

The premise is fairly simple—instead of creating its own commercial, Intuit put a spotlight on small businesses, deciding to hold a contest and let the winning company get its own Super Bowl ad. With the price tag for 30 seconds of airtime set to hit $5 million, Intuit’s move became an innovative way to let the little guy shine on a huge stage.

“It’s a very novel idea, much different from your standard corporate campaign,” said Ken Wach, Intuit’s senior vice president of marketing. “When you think about the American economy, the majority of private-sector jobs are coming from small businesses, but it tends to be the Fortune 500 companies that get all the press and get all the energy.”

Intuit first launched the campaign in 2014, took a year off to review how it could improve, and then brought it back in 2016. Wach said the company got very interesting feedback from the 15,000 small businesses that participated in 2014, mainly that the companies wanted to remain in contact with each other after the contest ended.

So in 2015, Intuit developed two assets to address this need: Quickbooks Connect, the company’s trade show, and Own It, an online learning and sharing platform that lets small business employees communicate with each other.

When Intuit brought the campaign back in 2016, it pushed “Small Business Big Game” directly through Own It, which helped build that sense of community. This year’s winner, Death Wish Coffee, made its mark with a 30-second spot, but the campaign was also able to bring awareness and support to other small businesses across the country.

“It gets all kinds of tremendous coverage from outlets where we would never ordinarily participate in,” Wach said. “It’s a bridge across business, sports, and culture.”

McCann Worldgroup: U.S. Army for Cryptaris Mission

Finalist for: Most innovative or creative use of content

A lot of people expect content marketing to be blog posts, infographics, slideshows, and e-books. Not video games.

But for the right audience, video game content can give a brand the chance to give its audience something of real value, something that they actually have fun with and come back to for more. That’s what McCann Worldgroup brought to Cryptaris Mission, an online video game sponsored by the U.S. Army.

As Denise Manukian, the associate media director of integrated investment at Universal McCann said over email, “It truly was an army of bright minds, wanting to make something great that we knew gamers and this Gen Z group would love to play.”

According to McCann, the game racked up over 3 million visits in just two months, drove almost 30,000 visits to, and kept users engaged for an average of two minutes and 55 seconds.

The game presents seven missions that call on skills soldiers need during real military activity. Manukian also mentioned that the online simulator was designed so that 95 percent of people who played it would fail at some point during the missions.

“The target audience doesn’t like to be told that something is different or better, they want to see it and feel it. They want to be a part of it,” Manukian wrote. “Cryptaris Mission brought them one step closer to experiencing the army.”

Wattpad & Coca-Cola: Naughty or Nice

Finalist for: Best brand/influencer collaboration

While it may not be as ubiquitous as major social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, Wattpad—a publishing platform for original stories and fan fiction—has quickly become a huge space for brands, helping them reach millions of readers.

At the end of last year, Coca-Cola teamed with Wattpad to produce a fiction campaign with a “naughty or nice” theme. Coca-Cola commissioned eighteen stories, categorized as either nice or naughty, with readers then encouraged to vote on their favorites.

Brands are still exploring the platform, but it didn’t take long for the beverage-maker to see incredible engagement. The Good Girl’s Bad Boys, a novel published on Wattpad in 77 installments, has been read an astounding 34.3 million times and received over 1 million comments.

“To Coke’s credit, they let the writers have the creative freedom the campaign needed to succeed,” said Suzanne Spence, Wattpad’s head of global brand partnerships. “Tapping these influencers is a very valuable strategy.”

To get the campaign ready in time for the holidays, the entire project had to come together extremely quickly. Spence told me Coca-Cola and Wattpad were able to agree on their collaboration in only fix or six days, compared to the weeks or months that most content partnerships take. And once the stories were ready, users spent an average of 60 minutes reading, which easily surpassed the amount of time readers were spending with typical writing on the platform.

As Spence put it,”I think it says a lot that people were spending twice as much time as they normally do on Wattpad to read stories from a brand.”

As other brands make the move to Wattpad, Coca-Cola’s campaign stands out as a model for everyone. If companies want their content to receive millions of views, they have to be comfortable enough letting the stories speak for themselves instead of worrying about overt promotion.

“We were revisiting stories, in some cases, from over a year ago, that have these incredible followings,” Spence said. “It all goes back to interesting stories and great characters.”

This post was published in partnership with the Digiday Content Marketing Awards.

Image by McCann Worldgroup

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