Why Cannes Wants to Fuel Better Branded Content

Prior to this year, there was a strange dynamic at the heart of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Content marketers love to go party on yachts and talk about their work, but the jury hadn’t awarded a top prize for branded content since 2013.

The New York Times ultimately stopped the drought, winning a Grand Prix for its virtual reality film “The Displaced,” which tells the story of the global refugee crisis. And to make sure those droughts don’t happen again in the future, the world’s biggest advertising festival has taken a more nuanced approach to marketing, starting with replacing its “advertising” tag five years ago with more categories.

In 2016, Cannes debuted Lions Entertainment, a two-day event that aims to explore the ways talent and storytelling can elevate branded content. There are also dozens of new awards, borne out of the Branded Content and Entertainment Lions (or lack thereof).

For festival CEO Phil Thomas, Lions Entertainment has been a wake-up call. He believes that the quality of the content marketing entries must improve.

“Clearly there is an issue about the quality of the work,” he told Forbes. “What the jury was saying was, ‘Listen, it is branded, we can see it’s branded, it’s content, but the entertainment side of it is not stacking up in the way in should.’ It’s quite a big statement for juries to do that, so when it happened for the second time, it became obvious that the industry needed to focus on this more.”

The branded content entries grew by 32 percent this year, to 1,843, while the new Entertainment Lions for Music attracted 637 entries. Overall, award submissions were up by 7 percent year over year.

Another issue has been the rise of the “fringe” outside the festival. Over the past years the event has grown well beyond the Palais building to incorporate ad tech and media companies in the port area of Cannes and “the strip,” otherwise known as La Croisette.

For Havas Media Group’s global CEO, it’s time for Cannes Lions to do a better job integrating these disparate parts. In an interview with The Drum, he said, “We should always celebrate great work, but it almost feels to me that there is a bigger conversation happening outside the Palais half the time.”

Outside of the Paiais last week, Yahoo announced plans to invest more resources in branded content creation through a studio called Storytellers. Brands including JetBlue, Dasani, and Farmers Insurance have already signed up, according to the company.

The need for better advertising is why organizations such as the Branded Content Marketing Association have partnered with Cannes to recognize work that pushes past the traditional ad campaign and bring brands, agencies, and content creators together.

Marketers can still have their fun aboard yachts, but from now on, they’re going to have to truly get serious about quality content if they want to thrive in the lion’s den.

Image by Getty

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