Advertising Week Europe 2013

Advertising Week Europe is in full swing, having decamped to London for the first time this year after nine in New York

Advertising Week Europe is in full swing, having decamped to London for the first time this year after nine in New York.

Billed as the world’s premier gathering of marketing and communications leaders, the four-day festival has advertising and media big wigs such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Havas’ David Jones topping the bill. The schedule is impressively packed, with leadership breakfasts and talks on subjects such as ‘What TV can learn from online’, ‘ The power of personalisation’ and ‘Creativity in a connected world’.

Judging by the couple of sessions we dropped in on, the festival certainly seemed well attended, although the snugness of venue BAFTA’s staircases might have heightened that impression.

What those panel discussions also highlighted, however, was the perennial challenge of such congregations to provide genuine a-ha moments.

Take the Metro Masterclass: the Art of Storytelling, which promised insight into storytelling “as a magnet to attract hearts, minds and ultimately wallets of consumers”. It had the collective creative might of Mark Boyd, co-founder of Gravity Road, Paul Lavoie, chairman and co-founder of Taxi, George Prest, VP executive creative director at R/GA London, Satin Reid, board director at Carat, and Seb Royce, founder of Glue, as well as comedian Richard Herring and Colin Kennedy, assistant editor at Metro newspaper.

They noted that we lived in “the age of the death of bullshit”, brands these days were “behaving rather than telling”, “execution – not content – is king”, advertisers should stop coming up with excuses like branded content, but think of the real competition – the likes of Pixar. Success was not so much about “storytelling” but “story creation”, said Royce; and media organisations should think of themselves as content partners, not just in terms of being a platform for branded content, said Kennedy.

All in all, it provided a neat summary of current thinking on content in multichannel advertising. But what does this all actually mean in terms of creative idea and execution? Where are the current campaigns that push those general ideas about storytelling further and deliver that sought-after engagement, participation and return on investment? What exactly do those lofty notions on advertising content look like in practice at Carat, Glue, R/GA London et al, now and in the future?

They mentioned some examples, such as Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic space jump last year with Red Bull, or Duracell’s campaign to help those affected by hurricane Sandy by rolling out mobile charging stations in lower Manhattan.

But aren’t those examples essentially just PR stunts rather than innovative brand storytelling?

Another example was Bombay Sapphires’ Imagination Series which partnered with Oscar-winning screen writer Geoffrey Fletcher. He wrote a script without any direction, and members of the general public were challenged to create any film they wanted from it, with the winner to be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. This was an example of brands empowering people to tell their stories, said Boyd. But how does Bombay benefit in real terms? Will it sell more bottles of its gin as a result?

There have been a slew of tie-ups between brands and award-winning film-makers recently – Gael García Bernal’s Canana production company created two short films for Chivas, for example, while Jaguar is heavily trailing its short film with Golden Globe-winning actor Damian Lewis.

First part of Canana’s short film series for Chivas.

Trailer for Jaguar F-Type’s shortfilm with Damian Lewis.

But aren’t these just a bit of film-making whimsy, something to feed the publicity machine?

Prest said his personal litmus test was, if a story is not going to improve the existence of human beings around the world, don’t tell it – but which brand can truly claim that?

It is certainly a topic that should be taken by the scruff of the neck and shaken about a bit more until it coughs up some convincing answers.

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