20 Dec 2016
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BEST OF 2016

2016 may have been a tough year on planet earth, but in the branded arts space there have been some positive shining moments.

In 2016 brands flocked to collaborate with artists, and we saw creatives of all backgrounds and disciplines embrace branded arts, entertainment, and experiences in a big way. 

Branded experiences came into their own as brands collaborated with artists, designers, architects, musicians and technologists

This year, branded experiences came into their own as brands worked with artists, designers, architects, musicians, technologists, and more to collaborate and create branded projects that could connect with audiences around the world.

The in-store experience was overhauled in 2016 as Samsung launched an immersive brand experience store in New York, Uniqlo revamped its London flagship store to create a “cultural hub” and Tiger Beer created a pop-up shop in New York’s China Town to showcase Asian art, design, fashion, and beer.

It didn’t end with stores, however, as brand’s rushed to create environments where people could experience their brand values and products.  Mini launched a design hub in New York to help the brand bolster its reputation with creative types, while iconic diary brand Moleskine opened a café in Milan’s Brera design district.

Fashion brand COS teamed with Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto to create an immersive light installation for Milan Design Week, and German razor brand Braun enlisted British designer Benjamin Hubert to create a kinetic installation as part of London Design Week.

Activewear brand Lululemon launched a limited edition craft beer, KFC created edible nail polish, and Nissan created a mobile office in a bid to showcase its zero-emission vehicle.  

Ikea teamed with British designer Tom Dixon and Danish design company HAY, among others, to create more sustainable stylish furniture. Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans to create sustainable shoes, Penfolds joined forces with French glass maker Saint-Louis to create crystal decanters to accompany the exclusive 2012 Grange Imperial, and Coca-Cola partnered with the W hotels group to sponsor music studios around the world.

Virtual Reality continued to be popular with brands - McDonald's transformed its happy meal toy into a virtual reality experience and Google launched a 360-degree interactive film

Automotive brands were keen to show their creative and artistic sides. Lincoln Motor Company tapped Annie Leibovitz to create a moody photographic series, Volvo created an impressionist art film heavy in imagery and featuring a reiteration of Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road’, Ford Denmark created an emotional three-part film depicting a family breakdown while Ford Europe created an online thriller film starring Mads Mikkelsen.

Virtual Reality continued to be a popular choice for brands. McDonald’s Sweden transformed its happy meal toy into a virtual reality experience, Google launched a 360-degree interactive short films Pearl, meanwhile, Intel showcased its latest technology with a host of projects including a multi-sensory experience during Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie at The Grammys, and its Bees with Backpacks film.

Branded entertainment was legitimised in 2016 with the launch of the Brand Film Festival and the creation of the Lions Entertainment at the Cannes Festival of Creativity

Branded entertainment was bolstered in 2016, with the launch of the Brand Film Festival in January, the creation of the Lions Entertainment platform at the Cannes Festival of Creativity, and the launch of a dedicated category for sponsored and brand funded films at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Brands continued to embrace big budget filmmaking enlisting some of Hollywood biggest directors to control the action. Kenzo teamed with Spike Jonze to create a brilliant but bonkers film ‘My Mutant Brain’ for the brand’s new fragrance, Qualcomm worked with Oscar winner Armando Bo to shoot the riveting thriller ‘Lifeline’, while H&M partnered with Wes Anderson to create the Christmas film ‘Come Together'.

Brands continued to embrace big budget filmmaking collaborating with some of Hollywood biggest names

A number of companies turned to branded arts and entertainment in a bid to win over audiences and rebuild reputations. Chipotle tried to overcome its commercial woes with a love story, Apple wanted to shake off negative reviews of the iPhone7 with a dark and mysterious campaign, while Pirelli abandoned its iconic but sexist calendars choosing to evolve the annual project into a more artistic and empowering fixture.

Pirelli was hoping to capitalise on the growing influence and power of women, and it wasn't alone. Nike tried to connect with young women through the Margot Vs Lily video series, while luxury skincare brand SK-II created a global stir with a film targeting and celebrating China’s Leftover Women.

It was also a year of triumphant follow-ups as hugely successful campaigns and branded projects returned with new installments

It was also a year of triumphant follow-ups as hugely successful campaigns and branded projects returned with new installments. P&G rolled out the latest installation in its 'Thank you Mum' series for the Rio Olympic Games, Channel 4’s follow-up to its Paralympics film The Superhumans made waves globally and Save the Children created another harrowing film about the ongoing Syria crisis.

Brands rushed to help bring some cheer as the year came to a close with the Christmas film extravaganza delivering some superb work. Musical ads were in high demand this year with Target creating a mini-musical spectacular for Christmas and Sainsbury's enlisting James Corden to create a fun filled tune for the season.  Burberry again produced a cracking celebrity-filled Christmas film with The Tale of Thomas Burberry, while John Lewis once again won over audiences globally with its annual Christmas film, this year it was Buster the Boxer. 

However, it was the emotional heartwarmers that made the biggest impact with the Spanish Lottery tugging our heartstrings in their Christmas Lottery film, and the Polish language company Allegro making us all cry with their beautiful film.  

As always, the competition was fierce but Branded Arts Review has whittled the list down to compile its annual Best Of review. Here are the standout branded arts, experiences and entertainment projects from the last 12 months. 

BEST OF 2016

5. Adidas - Adidas x Parley 

Creative Companies: Adidas, Parley for the Oceans and Alexander Taylor

Adidas pulled off a major coup this year when it created a stylish shoe made from recycled materials that were recovered from the ocean. The project, part of a collaboration with environmental initiative Parley for the Oceans, saw the creation of a concept shoe which used Adidas’ existing footwear manufacturing processes but replaced the usual synthetic fibres with yarns made from the recycled Parley Ocean Plastic. Adidas worked with designer Alexander Taylor to create the Adidas x Parley shoes, which attracted praise from around the globe when a limited edition run of 50 shoes was released to coincide with World Oceans Day. While the brand stressed it was working to create a new supply chain for products made from polymer ocean waste, many thought it was just another stunt.  However, Adidas held true to its word and in November it released its first collection of sustainable shoes for retail with 7,000 pairs of Ultraboost with Parley Plastic trainers hitting stores. And there’s more on the way, including a range of performance wear and official jerseys for a number of Adidas-sponsored football teams. The brand has set targets to eliminate virgin plastic from its supply chain and create one million pairs of shoes using Parley Ocean Plastic.  In a year that experienced more than its fair share of stunts and scam advertising, Adidas has proven its commitment to sustainability and reduced its use of plastic. While sustainability is a huge issue for companies, most of the work by brands and their corporations has been around packaging and the use of plastic bags –  Ikea is a notable exception. As brand projects go, this is massive. It is one of the most high-profile sustainability product developments by a major global brand. It demonstrates leadership, innovation and dedication to sustainability – values most brands would want to be aligned with. This is a truly exceptional brand initiative and by far one of the best branded projects of the year. 

4. Ikea - 25m of Syria 

Creative Company: POL 

Ikea created a replica of a real Syrian home as part of a collaboration with Red Cross to raise awareness of the ongoing crisis and help raise funds. The 25 square metre home was made of cinder block walls and meagerly furnished and was housed within Ikea’s flagship store in Slependen, Norway. The space used Ikea posters and price tags to tell the story of a typical Syrian family’s plight and the daily challenges to get access to food, clean water, and medicine. The price tags also served as donation slips in a bid to raise money for the Red Cross. The aim of the project was to give customers a realistic glimpse into life in war-torn Damascus through the story of Rana, a mother of four young children who lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. The strategy was to bring to life the reality of the experience Syrian’s were facing every day by placing a Syrian house next to all the Scandinavian homes. This confronting installation brought people face-to-face with the reality of the ongoing Syria crisis. One of the biggest challenges facing charity organisations, like the Red Cross, is how to engage people with the experiences of those it seeks to help. By confronting people as they go about their own comfortable daily lives and do their furniture shopping, Ikea ensured that the message and the experience not only cuts through but also really connects with people. As the Syrian crisis continues, charities face fatigue as people switch off from the ongoing problems, Ikea and Red Cross created an exceptionally powerful experience that consumers could not ignore. This is an outstanding example of the power of experiences. 

3. Channel 4 - 'We're the Superhumans'

Creative Company: 4Creative

UK broadcaster Channel 4’s film series celebrating the extraordinary talent of disability became an online sensation in 2016, with its centerpiece film, 'We’re the Superhumans’, one of the year's most watched films (more than 7.5 million views and 1.8 million shares). The much-anticipated follow-up to the 2012 smash hit “Meet The Superhumans” Channel 4 went beyond the sports arena to showcase the artists, musicians, dancers, and even rally car drivers, as part of the broadcasters aim to celebrate the superhuman feats as well as the everyday tasks achieved by disabled people. Set to the Sammy Davis Jr. track 'Yes I Can', ‘We’re all Superhumans’ aimed to challenge perceptions that disability is limiting and restrictive, by highlighting the talent and achievements of all disabled people – not just athletes and showcasing their talents. The follow-up film had big shoes to fill. The 2012 film delivered record viewing figures and attendance numbers for the London Paralympic Games (the first to ever sell-out), it also had a significant impact on public perceptions with 64% of the British population claiming the Paralympics were as good as the Olympics – an increase from just 14%. Viewing figures of Channel 4's coverage of the 2016 Paralympics increased by 50% and research found the films succeeded in further shifting attitudes with 74% of people feeling more comfortable discussing disability after seeing it while 59% felt it improved their perception of those with disabilities. This is not just a film, but a movement. A campaign which aimed to challenge people’s perceptions of disability and delivered. Meaningful, powerful, and effective. This is sensational work by Channel 4.   

2. BMW - BMW Films "The Escape" 

Creative Companies: Anonymous Content & Giesel Productions

BMW Films came bursting back onto screens this year with a blistering new film, 15 years after the original series changed online advertising. The project, which is credited with launching the branded entertainment genre launched a new film, "The Escape", starring Clive Owen, who reprised his role as The Driver. The film is directed by Academy Award-nominated director Neill Blomkamp (Elysium & District 9) and was presented as an "homage” to the 15th anniversary of the original series. The critically acclaimed series 'The Hire', which launched in 2001, was released exclusively online and “received more than 100 million views prior to the proliferation of high-speed internet connectivity and introduction of YouTube.” The original series, which was once screened at Cannes Film Festival, propelled the growth of creativity online as brands saw the potential of online video. Returning in 2016 with a significant budget and big special effects, the stakes were high and the potential for failure was even larger. BMW showed why the brand is the father of branded entertainment, with an exceptional piece of film. An explosive and entertaining story with a riveting plot which was flawlessly executed. The car looks great without ever seeming overt and when so many brands are trying so hard, BMW Films again made it seem effortless. The film featured a cheeky nod to the brand’s legacy in the genre when Clive Owen’s character says, "I might be a little rusty right now, but I've been doing this for a long time. I'm very good at it." This is a masterclass in great branded entertainment and it proves why BMW remains a class act. 

1. Netscout - Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

Creative Company: Pereira & O’Dell

A branded documentary created by systems security company Netscout probably doesn’t sound like a great piece of entertainment. However, this project turned out to be the best branded entertainment of 2016. A humorous, alarming, and entertaining exploration of the digital revolution and the impact technology is having on our lives, all seen through the brilliant and unique lens of Werner Herzog. The legendary filmmaker, who has been called “the most important film director alive”, is known for his confronting and poignant films, which often explore humanity, human torment and the limits of human beings. In this film, he examines the power and fragility of our connected world and features leading technology luminaries such as Elon Musk, Bob Kahn, and Sebastian Thrun. Praised by critics following its first screening at The Sundance Film Festival, it has toured the world screening at film festivals in Sydney, Munich, and the US - to name a few, as well as screening in cinemas across the US and Canada. The film is available to purchase on DVD or download.  

Created by advertising agency Pereira & O’Dell, a company that has won an Emmy for its branded entertainment projects, it is no surprise how successful this branded entertainment has been.  Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, is an exceptional piece of film, thoroughly entertaining and immensely successful at selling the brand’s message, without ever mentioning the brand. At no point is the film about a direct sell but in talking about connectivity and the future of the internet, the film is an exercise in awareness and education. The aim of the film is to create a greater level of understanding of the possibilities and the dangers that lie ahead, and in creating this film, Netscout positions the brand as the trusted experts. These trusted guardians can swoop in and help you and your company create and install systems to protect yourself and your business. The strategy is really that simple and that's part of what makes it so brilliant. Sure they must have had a significant budget, but there's no denying that the gains must be extraordinary.

This is a brilliant piece of positioning by Netscout, it is outstanding work by Pereira & O’Dell and, thanks to Herzog, this is one of the best films you will see in 2016. Forget that it is branded entertainment and just allow yourself to be entertained. This exceptional work is the best of 2016.<


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