Iain Matthews: chief strategy officer at Deep Focus London
Iain Matthews: chief strategy officer at Deep Focus London
A view from Iain Matthews

What does Cannes Lions' shift to an Entertainment category mean?

As Cannes Lions announces a noticeable award category change for 2016, changing Branded Content & Entertainment to the simpler Entertainment category, what does the shift mean? The chief strategy officer of Deep Focus London explains.

The new Entertainment Lions celebrate creativity that turns content into culture. The new category says entries will need to demonstrate ideas that are unskippable; that is work which captivates in order to cut-through, communicate a brand message or connect with consumers in a new way.

It shows a subtle but overdue shift in what’s recognised as great content. That too often adverts have been masquerading as ‘branded content’. Whilst adverts can become cultural touchstones, it’s pretty rare because they tend to come from a place of brand-first rather than consumer-first thinking.

To truly turn content into culture you have to first understand what can connect with your audience, how you can add value to their lives, rather than what message you’re trying to flog.

What it also talks to is the changing environment in which content lives, a non-linear world where you have five seconds to capture your audience’s imagination before they move on. To be successful you need to stop them skipping, scrolling or flipping past you.

That’s why we’re seeing more brands invest in genuine entertainment; from documentaries to films, comedy to drama, live experiences to episodic series. The stuff that we all crave.

It’s no surprise that we’re seeing more and more award-winning content produced by the ‘disruptors’ like Netflix and Amazon – they have a ruthless focus on what people genuinely want, and recognise that great entertaining content will bring people to them.

What an exciting opportunity. With all the drama about ad skipping and ad blocking creating commercial issues for publishers and broadcasters wouldn’t it be an excellent solution if loads of brands started investing in the content, rather than the advertising that surrounds it.

For the most part brands aren’t experts in making great content, but there are many great content makers out there, big and small, who often are struggling to finance their ideas.

Of course there needs to be a role for the brand, a connection between what the brand promises or believes and what the entertainment gives to the audience. That’s a space where agencies can add real value – adding their understanding of what will connect the brand and their audience.

The increasing focus on brand-funded entertainment is also why Vice and BuzzFeed are positioning themselves as creative partners for businesses. Agencies must take note.

Iain Matthews is chief strategy officer at Deep Focus London.