Cultural imagination: the winning features of creative brand storytelling
The future of brand storytelling is going to put (un)reasonable demands on marketers as we all attempt to entertain, amuse and enthral – especially across social platforms. As we navigate life beyond COVID-19, brands must be more imaginative than ever to tell new stories and experiences.
As the global benchmark of creative excellence, we tested 24 creatives of the Cannes Lions 2021 winners with consumers to understand their acceptance and appetite for pure creativity. These films were tested using Link on Kantar Marketplace with in-built neuroscience tools, to demonstrate the emotionality and storytelling capability of these assets.
Merging the best that Cannes and Kantar have to offer, we identified the ideal intersection of creativity, imagination and effectiveness.
Four key tenets of creative, imaginative and effective content
- Create cultural resonance and trigger cultural movements.
- Break convention – abandon formulas to be distinctive and tell a story differently.
- Fuse the brand and human context to tell a human story and let that story lend the brand relevance and a new meaning.
- Create a strong emotional connection, making the viewer feel powerful emotions at a personal level.
Great content can create cultural resonance and even trigger movements
Inspire new conversations around key issues that ail our society and spur people to emotion and action. The Cannes award-winning Beats with ‘You love me’ ad raises pertinent questions about our social milieu. And, by doing so, it successfully manages to garner a combination of positive and negative reactions from consumers. The ad shows a high level of expressiveness, as measured by the neuroscience tools that lay bare the emotional reactions to the creative.
If you are considering taking a social stance, be prepared to be strong and own it – even at the cost of social backlash. The creative needs to be true to its purpose, even if it polarises and makes people question the current order. This is more pertinent than ever as we move out of a ‘unifying’ pandemic exposing social inequality.
Be distinctive and tell your story differently by breaking convention and abandoning formulas
We can take cues from Cannes-winning ads. They are distinctive. They break the rules. They stand out by using humour, tragic comedy, new perspectives or social issue solutions. RC Cola's ‘Family’ ad illustrates distinctiveness using humour and quirkiness in storytelling. It builds suspense through the pain of a young child who suspects that he is an adopted kid due to a physical peculiarity only to realise that his ‘quirk’ binds him to the mother more than ever. It truly deserved its 100 score on distinctiveness.
But it’s not all about fun and quirks. Serious content can also make your creative stand out. True Name from MasterCard tops our distinctiveness scale for demonstrating empathy towards the LGBTQIA+ community. It got people thinking and feeling at the same time through an ad and act – as consumers observed, “You do not expect something like this from MasterCard! It brought the negative reactions towards transgender people out into the light.” Mastercard not only demonstrates that their service is inclusive, but they also position the brand with empathy, triggering emotion.
Tell a human story and let that story lend the brand relevance and a new meaning
Converging the brand and human context is a tricky balance. Effectiveness is about achieving branded memorability with your brand front and centre in the narrative. Starbucks, I am – the Brazilian winner of Cannes Glass Grand Prix – invited trans people to have their names legally changed in a place where they are always welcome. A Starbucks was transformed into a registry office and participants left with official documents in their new names – free of charge. The creative showcase struck that human-brand balance and helped grow the brand’s equity in the long term.
Cheetos ‘Can’t touch this’ manages to strike the same balance through a light-hearted and fun ad. The young man walking around ‘helplessly’ not being able to lend a helping hand due to the Cheetos-stained fingers is a good visual representation of the Cheetos experience: one that the brand can uniquely own for years to come.
Make people feel powerful emotions with the story being told
If there is a truth and honesty to your story and your brand is not hiding behind formulas, people will want to reach out and let your brand touch their hearts. When rooted in a strong cultural tension, creative is halfway to making the right connection with consumers. When teamed with bold storytelling, your content will tug at their heartstrings. But remember, not all reactions are positive. In some cases, they trigger visceral reactions while opening your eyes to rude truths. Equal Pay Day’s Eternal Pregnancy – in collaboration with Zij-kant – stirs up emotions through a powerful distinctive story that precipitates very strong emotional reactions captured through neuroscience. The message is that, as a woman, you should not have to wait until retirement to give birth. The story is told in a humorous manner, where a woman stays pregnant until she retires, only to give birth to a grown man.
How can you sell your brand while flexing your creative conscience?
Taking a cultural truth and elevating the conversation through your category as well as your brand’s role within it can create connections, and get people to look inward at some of the ‘accepted’ ways of living and re-evaluate them. This can be done without losing the brave and bold tone. Creatives that speak to people set a trend and differentiate, with the brand clearly owning the space, are Pantene ‘Freedom in Job Hunting’ and Student Dialogue – both take on the issue of hairstyle restrictions holding women back by providing a solution with the brand in the centre. Dove’s ‘Courage is Beautiful’ heralds pandemic health workers as the symbols of beauty that embody courage.
Each year we learn more about winning ads and the ingredients for success. As we have noted from Kantar’s Creative Effectiveness Awards earlier this year, our 2021 Cannes winners recognise the power of creative to build brands, not just activate sales. Some of our winning ads tackle diversity or challenge gender stereotypes, others use celebrities creatively, and some nailed humour during challenging times.
The future commands a coming together of imagination, creativity and effectiveness
Create for cultural resonance by identifying a clear theme that is close to consumers’ hearts and is relevant and ownable by your business. Identify a strong human story angle by being bold, taking a stance on the issue, and challenging convention. Think story, think creative, and break formulas to deliver the story with a difference. And communicate and connect beyond words. Be more than ads, and actively contribute to the cultural discourse.