From a football pitch in Brazil to product placement in Israel, the campaigns reimagining content marketing

Shell’s Power of Sport project

The evolution of content marketing was underlined last week when WPP’s MediaCom won the prestigious Content Marketing Association’s Grand Prix award, with a football pitch for Shell that lights itself.

Not so long ago, the CMA Awards were dominated by traditional publishing fare. The event used to reward editorial specialists who created strong content and products for brands, as typified by Sainsbury’s Magazine by Seven, or Virgin Media’s digital magazine by Redwood.

Last week’s winner by MediaCom Beyond Advertising leveraged kinetic tiles, created by tech startup Pavegen, to produce a truly stunning, holistic Power of Sport campaign across owned, earned and bought media.

As someone who has been involved in judging these awards in their various guises for the past 10 years, and now a content marketing practitioner myself at Bloomberg, I found the debate among this year’s Grand Prix judges truly fascinating.

Moving beyond advertising

Based on the simple premise that movement generates energy, Shell’s Power of Sport project used Pavegen’s tiles to build a football pitch in a Rio de Janiero favela that is powered by the children playing on it.

The initiative in football mad Brazil, launched by the King of Football himself (and long-time WPP partner) Pelé, not only created a safe, sustainable place for the local community to play, but represented nothing less than a revolutionary step in exploring alternative energy sources.

It’s worth noting how MediaCom, not having any media assets of its own, still saw the value in partnering with a traditional media owner for the campaign in the form of Condé Nast. The partnership helped to ensure the story was brought to life through sponsored editorial across Wired, the New Yorker, Architectural Digest and Vanity Fair.

Each Condé Nast title (in print and online) focused on different angles of the campaign and provided the sort of media executions that would have been more recognisable as entries at the CMA Awards of old.

Added to the mix were a series of online videos – referred to in typical, grandiose style as 'cinematic short films' – along with imagery and written content distributed across the web via social media.

Harnessing the power of owned, earned and bought

There can be no doubting its impact. One perennial problem facing many in the content space is how best way to quantify the true impact of a particular campaign. This is where the sort of robust analytics in the DNA of an established media agency like MediaCom come into their own.

In terms of owned media assets, Shell’s website and social media pages were fully utilised and tracked at reaching more than 35 million users in the first six weeks – that’s before a penny had been spent on media. Those that visited the sites were found to be fully engaged too, with video completion rates among the highest Shell had ever recorded at 80 per cent or above.

The campaign’s bought space via Condé Nast added credibility and reach, and generated an additional 30m page impressions during the period. Time spent with the publisher’s digital ad units suggested this was content users were happy to be served, with dwell times more than the double standard.

Meanwhile, the strength of the original idea at the heart of the campaign (creating a self-powered footie pitch) ensured significant “earned” activity. Within 48 hours of Pelé having kicked the first ball on the pitch, more than 110 pieces of independent editorial had been published about it.

The positive nature and perceived potential of the campaign ensured thousands of Twitter and Facebook users were only too happy to share news about it, generating more than 16m impressions within weeks.

In naming MediaCom’s Power of Sport entry as this year’s winner of the CMA’s Grand Prix, my fellow co-judges (a mix of leaders from creative and media agencies, as well as some of the UK’s biggest media owners) were also reassured by the amount of craft involved in the campaign's multifarious executions – from striking photography to compelling video, and engaging editorial to the football pitch itself and its impact on the neighbourhood.

Introducing product placement on steroids

In contrast, one close contender for this year’s top CMA award was a standout content marketing campaign by McCann, Tel Aviv that was notable for its lack of craft.

In Israel, the agency partnered furniture specialist Ikea with production company Keshet International to produce the sort of cut through most brands can only dream about.

Using Celebrity Big Brother’s seasonal premiere as its launch pad – when the contestants and the new Big Brother house are unveiled – the reality TV housemates were tasked with building their own (Ikea) furniture for the house, including the chairs, beds and sofa that would then be featured everyday on the programme for the weeks that followed.

“We didn’t want to just be on the show, we wanted to be the show,” Ikea’s PR team enthused afterwards. Cheesy as it sounds, it’s a point well made.

Hundreds of traditional media outlets reported the initiative and it formed the basis of thousands of social media interactions. The activity was further amplified through paid social media posts and TV sponsorship bumpers.

The concept was so strong and embedded within the show itself that there really was little need for much editorial activity. A digital 3D virtual tour of the Big Brother House was created, which received more than 200,000 visits and an average dwell time of three minutes.

Following the Big Brother launch, articles ran in the national newspapers and magazines while in some giant Ikea stores there were demo rooms designed as complete replicas of the Big Brother House.

The result was product placement on steroids and research suggested more than half of Israel were able to recognise this year’s Big Brother house had been furnished by Ikea – including 37 per cent of people who said they had never watched the show.

Such a simple premise. In 2016, I think we should expect to see lessons from Ikea’s Big Brother success in Israel make an impact in many of the other 30 markets that currently hold licenses for Endemol’s reality show.

Shell and Ikea were two very different campaigns made possible by an increasing willingness among brands to invest in content marketing.

It will surprise few to learn this year’s CMA Awards was the biggest yet, with entries from 100 agencies across 21 countries. The timely showcase of talent and innovation also provided a reminder of just how quickly the marketing landscape is changing.

Arif Durrani is Bloomberg Media’s commercial editor for Europe, Middle East & Africa, former editor of Media Week and was a judge at the CMA Awards 2015

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