Cannes Lions Film winners – the brain’s perspective

Image from Diageo’s ‘Made of Black’ Guinness ad.

Heather Andrew, CEO of Neuro-Insight, explains the success of the year’s Cannes Lions winners from a neuroscience point of view.

When it comes to recognising global creative excellence, there isn’t much to top winning a Cannes Lions. The four UK films which scooped Gold Lions in the hotly contested film category, Ikea’s ‘Beds‘, Diageo’s ‘Made of Black‘ Guinness ad, Beats by Dr Dre’s ‘The Game before the Game‘ and Honda’s ‘The Other Side‘ – should be justifiably proud. But with advertisers increasingly keen to understand consumers’ subconscious reactions to ads, what makes these winning campaigns effective from the brain’s perspective?

1. Long-form content rules
Each of these four films is longer than a standard 30 second ad allowing them to work in an almost cinematic way. Honda’s ‘The Other Side’ and Beats’ ‘The Game before the Game’ even have opening titles. This helps our brains to associate the content with films rather than ads so we’re prepared to give the story room to develop and want to follow it through to the end. Honda’s ‘The Other Side’ is a great example here – it’s a complex story with two parallel narratives that wouldn’t work in a shorter format. Over the three minutes of the film, the brain has time to learn how to decode the parallel stories structure and make sense of the story.

2. Use of puzzles, pictures and music keeps the brain engaged
Longer form content can be very demanding of our time and there’s a danger we might switch off. All four UK Gold Lions films successfully use a range of approaches to keep the brain engaged. The Beats, Guinness and Honda films use dramatic images and music, while ‘Beds’ uses words (a Tempest speech) to elicit high levels of emotional response. All four also deploy a rhythm or beat to maintain this response. Beats and Guinness closely align visuals and sound/beat to reinforce their impact.

Each of the four films also deploys intrigue by using puzzles to keep the brain working hard. The Guinness film features repeated bottle motifs, the Beats ad keeps cutting to the headsets and the footballer in the tunnel and there is a continual falling to earth in the Ikea film. Meanwhile, the Honda ad repeats every scene in order to reinforce the parallel narrative. Each film asks, “how will it end?”

3. The product is intrinsic to the story
For a marketer there’s no point telling a great story unless it’s linked to the product; here too these ads deliver. Honda’s ‘The Other Side’ has the car at the centre of both narrative strands; in Ikea the bed is essential to the journey through the sky; in the Beats ad we see repeated shots of the characters sporting the headsets. Guinness’s ‘Made of Black’ features more subtle brand linkage, through creamy/foamy images. Having appeared in previous campaigns these are likely to evoke associations with the product.

4. Product cues are strongly linked to branding cues
For an ad to work effectively, it’s not enough just to show the product itself; the brain needs to link the product to the brand. In the Guinness film the juxtaposition of the foamy images with black will be sending the brain subtle but powerful cues likely to evoke Guinness. In addition branding comes in three separate scenes of the end – increasing the chance of it being well encoded into memory.

Meanwhile, Honda’s ‘The Other Side’ sees branding at the start which is reinforced throughout by the car itself. Honda omits branding at the end, but the compelling set up and subsequent execution make it likely the branding will come through well. Beats’ ‘The Game before the Game’ film overtly sets up branding at the start and the product is recognisable as Beats. By contrast Ikea’s ‘Beds’ contains lots of bed cues but no branding until the end. The penultimate scene and caption, “There’s no bed like home”, apparently resolves the ‘puzzle’ of the narrative which potentially tells the brain that the story is over. This prompts the brain to process what it has just seen, during which time it is less receptive to new information; an effect that we call ‘conceptual closure’.

The only Ikea branding in the ad appears at this point – potentially coinciding with the low point in receptiveness. However, Ikea’s ‘Beds’ ad is recognisably an instalment from the retailers’ ‘Wonderful Everyday’ series so even if the branding is missed here, the ad could well still have a positive impact on sales. In summary, the creative devices in these ads suggest they are highly effective at delivering messages at a sub-conscious level, meaning that creative excellence is likely to be matched by a strong positive impact on the brands in the real world.

Originally published on Mediatel

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