Asia Rising - Fresh from the APAC Cannes Lions Jury

Ben Hartman, Managing Director of IPG Sports and Entertainment Agency, Octagon, takes us inside the Cannes Entertainment Lions for Sports Jury.

The global sport industry is booming. The birth and explosion of eSports, the proliferation of American sports outside of their homeland and the growing investment of brands in the last stronghold of live broadcast TV are just some of the reasons behind this.

As a result of this continued growth, this year, Cannes Lions created a new category that focussed exclusively on Sport.

Our task, as the inaugural Entertainment Lions for Sport Jury was to define what best in class work look liked in this category. What was the standard that future work would be measured against?

With a diverse mix of backgrounds (both geographically but also from within the industry – with brands, agencies and rightsholders all represented), the differing perspectives of the ten jurors were vital in shaping the criteria and ultimately rewarding the best work from around the world.

From the outset we were clear on the five parameters we would judge the work against; a base level of Quality and Craft that would be deserving of winning a Lion, Bravery and Boldness, Integration that Adds Fan Value, Brand Storytelling and work that Understands the Nuances of Sport and Fandom.

With almost 700 pieces of work entered in this inaugural year, there was a full gamut of quality, however what became quickly clear was that the absolute best work really stood out in at least one of these key judging criteria.

Integration That Adds Fan Value

Fans can be a fickle bunch and there can be danger in a brand integrating itself with a lack of relevance or too deeply into a sport or fan’s experience. The best work that our jury saw not only managed seamless integration, but added value to the fan’s experience rather than distracted from it.

A brilliant example, which was awarded a Silver Lion, came from Microsoft and their “Football Decoded” campaign. The software giant partnered with Real Madrid Football Club to integrate the gameplay of FIFA 2018 into live football as a mechanism the launch the game. The brilliant use of LED signage coupled with the social campaign around this added significant value to both football and FIFA fans, an audience with significant overlap.

The jury also noted the improvement over the past few years of brand integration within eSports. Whilst a partnership with Fortnite is a fairly well trodden path for brands, Wendy’s Gold Lion winning “Keeping Fortnite Fresh” campaign saw them use an existing character in the game (with a remarkable resemblance to their red headed brand character) to hijack the online world and go about destroying all of the freezers in the game.

It was an entertaining method of communicating Wendy’s biggest competitive difference, the fact they don’t use frozen meat. Beyond the world of gaming, the jury were extremely impressed with Uber Eats’ “Australian Open Ambush” which combined brilliant media strategy (purchasing the ad space leading right back into the tennis coverage) with remarkable craft (filming their spots to mirror the exact Australian Open broadcast) to create a seamless, and incredibly humorous, integration. This was the only campaign awarded out of the Asia Pacific region earning a Bronze Lion.

Understanding the Nuances of Sport and Fandom

The world of sport evolves and changes quickly and a brand’s ability to be agile and reactive is important in becoming a positive part of a fan’s sporting experience. The best examples of this both came from US beer behemoth AB Inbev. It is notoriously (and rightly so) difficult for beer brands to have partnerships with current athletes.

Budweiser found a relevant role for the brand in NBA star Dwayne Wade’s retirement year. The Miami Heat player had been swapping his jersey with a member of the opposition team at the end of every game. Understanding the motivation of this tradition, and tapping into the sporting zeitgeist, allowed Budweiser to position the brand in a role of celebration and activate a mutually beneficial partnership between the brand and the athlete in a campaign titled “Dwayne Wade’s Last Swap” which was awarded a Silver and Bronze Lion by the jury. In another Lion winning example, Bud Light identified and capitalised on the buzz surrounding the almost two season losing streak of the Cleveland Brown’s NFL team by installing beer filled fridges across the city that would automatically unlock when the team broke their losing streak.

The fact that people across the country were talking about these fridges in anticipation showed the power of the idea and the impact was clear when even the Cleveland players were asking if the fridges had been unlocked in their post-match interviews following their first victory.

If brands are going to be intimately involved in the lives of sports fans, they need to speak the same language, at the right time, and these campaigns did.

Brand Storytelling

A power of sport has always been it’s ability to act as a medium to tell stories. In particular, sport has the power to unite people, set aside differences and shine a light on social issues.

The work that our jury assessed across the Sport category was very much in line with this and a significant proportion of the work entered in this inaugural year focused on Diversity and Inclusion or Sport’s ability to highlight a brand’s social purpose. The best examples used shock power to great effect here.

“The Not So Beautiful Game” for the National Centre for Domestic Violence in the UK was as disturbing as it was powerful and the imagery based on the increase of domestic violence around major sport events was haunting. Similarly powerful was the power of storytelling and film craft displayed in “Heroes of Today”, an anti-racism platform established by the Spanish national football league La Liga.

Whilst these two campaigns were aimed at highlighting huge societal issues through large awareness programs, the simplistic genius of Vivo Telefonica’s “E-Quality” came in adjusting normal behaviours within an eSports platform.

The brand hacked games unbeknownst to the gamers, to award certain players 32% less in game reward as a mechanism to highlight gender pay disparity.

All of these campaigns were awarded Gold Lions – they had used a sporting platform in unique, beautiful and sometimes alarming ways in telling a story to enable and encourage social change through sport.

Boldness and Bravery

After reviewing, discussing and awarding huge amounts of work from across the sporting landscape, it must be said that the discussion around the Grand Prix was one of the easier ones.

As a jury we were unanimous that Nike’s “Dream Crazy” set the benchmark across the world for brands using sport as the focus of their marketing.

The work itself was beautifully produced and crafted, the relevance and role for the brand undeniable and the impact of the campaign reverberated around the world, including on the stock market.

What really set this apart (and the rationale behind awarding it the Grand Prix) was the boldness and bravery of Nike in using Colin Kaepernick as the centrepiece of the campaign. Despite their partnership with the NFL, despite the known controversy it would create and despite knowing the implications of this, the brand took a stand.

Here was a brand asking us as consumers to “Dream Crazy” and in doing so, were living the ideology themselves.

There was a sense of pride in our jury room that we could recognise and award this bravery accordingly.

So where does the Entertainment Lion for Sport category go from here? Without doubt, the entries and qualities of work are only going to increase next year and the awards will become even more competitive.

I’m hopeful for an increase in quality of work coming from Asia Pacific. It was disappointing to see the calibre of work entered this year falling short in our region and with the eyes of the sporting world looking to Asia for the Rugby World Cup and then the Olympic Games in Japan, both the agencies and the brands in this part of the world will need to lift our game.

Jurors will also be looking out for a broader focus on the sports that are used across the work – football, basketball and other US sports featured highly but this needs to expand to reflect the global passions for other sports and the massive (often untapped) audiences they deliver.

The creative potential that sits in the less mainstream sports is huge and should be focussed on by brands. I expect to see more integrated campaigns around e-sports and not just in game integrations. The talent profiles, viewership and live events are growing and I expect the work will follow suit.

It was a pleasure to be part of the inaugural Entertainment Lions for Sport jury at Cannes. The potential of sport, it’s impact of society and the role brands play in connecting with consumers in this space will continue to provide an impactful way to reach an engaged audience. I look forward to being a small part of this growth.

First published on AdNews Australia, 21 June 2019.