The 2020 WARC Awards’ Effective Content Strategy shortlist is a testament to the power of compelling content to get consumers’ attention. Chiara Manco offers the view from the judging room.

Consumers’ attention is increasingly fragmented, pulled in different directions across the ever-expanding media landscape. Looking at mobile alone, research from tech care company Asurion shows that, on average, Americans look at their phones 96 times a day. During that time, people are flooded with stories, ads, and notifications, all competing for attention. The challenge for marketers who choose to invest in a content strategy is to publish content that people actively want, and choose, to spend time with.

The Content Marketing Association’s definition of ‘content’ speaks precisely to this need, stating that “content is about sustained attention, gaining your audience’s trust by drawing them into your brand’s community for a desirable amount of time.” 

With no one-size-fits-all approach to secure sustained attention, this year’s WARC Awards’ Effective Content Strategy shortlist can serve as inspiration, showing the many ways in which brands can use content to help hook in consumers.

DB Export: content that gets in your head

In New Zealand, beer brand DB Export opted for a multiplatform approach, focusing on a strong content idea that could be translated across channels. Through Colenso BBDO, the brand launched its latest low-carb variant by writing, recording and producing a romantic duet, complete with music video, performed by an ordinary Kiwi couple for extra relatability. In a multiplatform takeover, content inspired by the song was distributed on social, radio, TV, print and OOH. Consumer engagement and user-generated content were encouraged through branded gifts in the form of ‘beer bouquets’ and a digital dedication tool allowing users to create their own love songs. 

DB Export’s low-carb beer achieved $6.6m in incremental sales and grew the brand's entire portfolio by 0.3% in volume share. The level of traction the song achieved, extending beyond advertising to embed itself in pop culture, impressed judges. Nazirah Ashari, Strategy Director, TBWA\Kuala Lumpur, commented: “The song doesn’t feel like advertising at all – it’s become a part of life and could be on anyone’s playlist. The fact that this one piece of content can do so much is impressive.”

SNIFF: aligning with passion points

Meanwhile, in the UAE, dog rehoming charity SNIFF favoured a targeted social approach over a mass-reach, multiplatform one. Looking to dispel the myth that shelter dogs cannot be trained, the Clásico Dogs campaign, led by TBWA\RAAD, got football lovers excited by turning six of the charity’s oldest dogs into football legends. Leveraging an upcoming Barcelona vs. Real Madrid game, the dogs were styled as iconic football players from the two teams and trained to perform a variety of tricks. Videos on YouTube and Facebook introduced the line-up and, during the match, SNIFF took to Twitter to comment on the highlights in real time.

Judges admired the laser focus on football fans, which allowed SNIFF to tailor the communications around them. Emma Chiu, Global Director, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, said: “It was fun, engaging and smart. They drilled down into the audience rather than going broad.” By going granular, the charity was able to give the audience its full attention, and in turn received theirs. All dogs starring in the campaign were adopted shortly after, and SNIFF saw a 273% increase in adoption inquiries.

WHSmith: rewarding attention 

Dragging kids away from tablets and smartphones and encouraging them to read a book is no small feat. Through FP7 McCann Dubai, WHSmith in the UAE reached children playing mobile games with pop-up ads in the form of short stories. The ads could only be closed by getting to the end of the story and answering a question, which unlocked extra lives, boosts or coins for the game they were playing. 

The reward mechanism not only kept children glued to the stories until the end – 98% of the stories were read in full – but also helped forge a positive association with reading, leading to an 11% sales increase. Clare Hutchinson, Executive Strategy Director, Havas London, commented: “I liked how it used screens to take kids to the real world: it managed to engage imaginations on screen and then convert them to paper.”

The power of influence

Other notable content strategies included Nuveen’s partnership with Forbes in the US. To reframe the iconic Forbes 400 as a measure of philanthropic giving rather than wealth, the asset management firm worked closely with the magazine across advertorial and editorial content. The seamless integration meant that readers of the issue automatically spent time getting to know the firm, as proved by the fact that, during the campaign, 53% of visits to Nuveen’s website were driven by the partnership. What’s more, judges thought it had longevity. Caroline Parks, Head of Strategy, RAPP, said: “It ticks a lot of strategy boxes, but the partnership with Forbes and the amazing new piece of content they created was the most impressive thing about it because it can live on every year, making it ambitious, important and interesting for the investment sector.”

Mastercard persuaded rural Indians to sit up and take notice by using cricket legend M.S. Dhoni as its spokesperson. Looking to prove that card payments are not only for premium purchases, the brand enlisted the cricketing legend to demonstrate their everyday uses in a multichannel campaign. Putting front and centre one of small-town India’s most recognisable – and likeable – celebrities, paid off: Mastercard transactions increased by 23% in the rural areas. Valerie Pinto, CEO, Weber Shandwick India, said: “They were able to leverage the power of influencers to drive that shift from cash to cashless transaction. It suits the target audience and it worked really well for them in helping to change behaviour patterns. I saw the campaign on the ground and it led to a lot of people going cashless.”

A huge thank you to our judges, who did a wonderful job and brought many a smile to our faces during conference calls. 

The Effective Content Strategy winners will be announced on 10 June. The complete shortlist can be found here