Search for the best content solution that integrates into culture, advises Colenso BBDO’s James Tucker, who worked on the DB Export campaign that took the Grand Prix in the Effective Content Strategy category at this year’s WARC Awards.

Howard Luck famously said, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them and sometimes it’s an ad.” That’s putting it politely. People don’t like ads. We as an industry – agencies, clients and production partners – should aspire to create work that extends beyond advertising. Work that resonates with people and is worthy of their time.

If we only ever aim to make ads, even great ones, then all we’ll ever make are ads. But aiming to be part of culture and be genuinely meaningful to people opens up far greater possibilities.

Through insightful thinking, brave decision-making and audacious execution, that’s what we achieved with the launch of DB Export Gold Extra Low Carbohydrate beer (ELC).

We created a full-length love ballad and accompanying music video. This was more content than advertising and a world away from a traditional, integrated campaign.

Here are some lessons from our experience.

Great work starts before you start working

We went in search of the best solution, not just the best ad solution. That meant accepting the nervousness and discomfort that comes from exploring ideas beyond traditional advertising. Trust and ambition enabled great work to follow.

There’s no substitute for a powerful insight

If you want to engage and motivate people, start by showing you understand them. We looked at our target audience and discovered three truths about them. The first, women now made up over 40% of our target drinking audience, so we wanted to actively embrace them. The second was that 63% of drinkers rejected beer being lower in calories or carbohydrates as the sole reason to buy it (even though they believe in the importance of healthier lifestyles). Low carb had to be an added benefit, not the lead message. And third, looking at the attitudinal data, mainstream beer drinkers were far more selfless than they were being given credit for. These key learnings led to a fresh insight – drinking a low-carb beer could be repositioned as a selfless act that shows others you care about them. This bridged the product’s functional benefit with our key audience discoveries.

We acknowledged drinkers’ selflessness and humorously positioned our beer as a way for them to prove it. Crucially, it also differentiated us within the category, which was full of functional product messaging. The right idea isn’t always an ad DB Export is a mainstream beer brand, which means we target drinkers aged 20-65. From the outset, we wanted an idea that would transcend channels. That turned out to be a love song, as nothing says love and selflessness more than a romantic duet.

We quickly found ourselves talking about the hilarious tropes of love songs of the last few decades. It gave us a deep well to draw on and unlocked additional avenues to ideate in.

Creating a song and music video also changed our approach to launch. We treated the launch of ELC like a record label. We started writing for every single physical and digital touchpoint we could

– across the worlds of music, romance, anything relating to self-improvement and of course marketing.

Our media partner used the insight to identify different groups of beer drinkers and their interests, so we could write scenarios for specific audiences, allowing us to target short-form cutdowns to specific audiences across digital media.

The song, and therefore the brand and product, could now show up beyond advertising – radio station playlists, clubs, iTunes, Spotify, gyms, karaoke bars and album artworks. We even showed up in florists and held a concert on Valentine’s Day. Then we brought all those properties back into the brand’s world through our comms, social content and point of sale. We also used cutting-edge voice replication technology and autotuning to allow people to have our artists sing a personalised dedication for their loved ones.

Ideas that transcend channels

Channel-first thinking limits the scope of possible solution, but traditional advertising channels still have a role to play in amplifying content. Creating cutdowns to target different audience groups with relevant messages kept our campaign relevant beyond the initial song launch and creating a digital dedication tool kept people engaged with the campaign. All these touchpoints stemmed from a content-first idea. Not being constrained by traditional channels and durations allowed a truly unique and distinctive way of launching ELC, garnering attention and PR far beyond our budget.

And that’s the beauty of content. It’s not confined to specific formats and length. And it doesn’t have to feel like an ad. A good sense check is to think about Howard Luck. Ask yourself, would people want to read this, share it with their friends or put it on a playlist. If the answer is yes, then fight for it. The world doesn’t need more pollution. But it always needs more great content. And sometimes that content can be advertising. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.

James Tucker is Senior Strategist at Colenso BBDO

An abridged version of this article appears in the Content Strategy Report, published 11 August 2020.