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Why activation made the Cannes Grand Prix winner a master class

Opinion, 17 August 2017

The Art Institute of Chicago’s campaign, Van Gough’s Bedroom: Let Yourself In, was successful through its consistency of message, says Martin Broad, with the idea laced through each media touchpoint in a way that gave the artwork life.

The Art Institute of Chicago undoubtedly started from a difficult position with this campaign, through a peculiar mixture of unfamiliarity and apathy. The paintings themselves are not Van Gogh’s most famous works, and to the casual observer lack any of the immediate pop-culture myth and mystique of the artist.

In the face of these challenges, it would have been understandable to see a campaign that went off in different directions, and lost its meaning as a result. However, what’s particularly impressive is the cohesion it shows across all channels. The overriding “Let Yourself In” message is clearly observable throughout, activated with pertinence across media. This lighthouse identity is the cornerstone of any successful strategy, something the campaign shares with other Cannes winners and surely a factor in its favour when in front of the judges.

What’s equally impressive is the range of touchpoints used, without the campaign ever resorting to channel mix vanity. A less thoughtout partnership with Airbnb could have been merely a lazy PR exercise with a popular brand (with a CMO on the Cannes panel, no less), but the activation itself was the perfect creative interpretation of the strategic idea. Similarly, an SMS text initiative could have lacked purpose, but linking the texts directly with the ‘artist’ breathed life into the strategy’s themes of intimacy and closeness.

The marketing teams involved have clearly learned the difference between strategy and tactics. This is certainly not the first time that fine art has met innovative marketing – ING’s ‘The Next Rembrandt’ is a standout example of a brand adapting classic artwork to the digital age, and was a similar hit at Cannes. However, ‘Let Yourself In’ is perhaps the first example where the idea of intimacy with the artwork has been activated in such a physical way. The mixture of actionable insight, a clear campaign strategy and diligent media execution that adheres to it is an unbeatable combination, and has created a campaign that, similarly to the artwork, is a masterstroke.

This article originally appeared in WARC's Cannes Lions 2017: Insights from the Creative Effectiveness winners report

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About the author

Martin Broad is Head of Communications Insight at Ebiquity. His team provide strategic insight into the Paid, Owned and Earned comms of leading brands around the world, working regularly across sectors such as technology, alcohol, finance, mobile and skincare and cosmetics.