media update’s Aisling McCarthy chatted to Xenopoulos about his appointment and its importance.

You’ve been selected as a jury member for the Cannes Entertainment Lions. What does this mean to you?

For me, it’s a massive thing. To be honest, it’s kind of been a career ambition of mine for many years. I’ve been going to Cannes now for close to 15 years and one of the things I’ve always hoped to be able to do is have the opportunity to judge at Cannes eventually. So it really is a career bucket list item.

The other jury members seem to be predominantly from the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. How important do you think it is that South Africa is represented as part of the judging panel?

It’s important that South Africa is represented on as many of the juries as we possibly can be. It obviously gives South Africa a voice in the room and while, ultimately, the best work has to win, there is no doubt that there is a cultural perspective on things that a local jury member can bring to the conversation.

Previously, the South African jury members had roles on more traditional juries, like print, outdoor or television [which are] categories where we have won or entered a lot in the past. We haven’t had much jury representation in the new categories and the ones which I believe are some of the more important categories; like cyber, mobile, branded content, integrated and so forth.

The intersection between entertainment and advertising is one of the most exciting and one of the most important new frontiers from a marketing perspective. So having South African jury members is really important, and having [them] in some of these newer categories, like the Entertainment Lions which is only in its second year, is a real win for us as a country.

You mentioned that being on the jury was a career ambition, what else is on the list of career ambitions for you?

Another one of those career ambitions was to be able to speak at Cannes, to participate in delivering a seminar or presentation, and we actually have been selected to do that this year as well. So, together with our Absolut Vodka client and Khuli Chana, we’re going to be doing a presentation on Africa and the creative revolution in Africa. So that’s a big deal for me and they’re both going to be happening at the same time, so that’s awesome. It’s going to be a busy week!

Why do you think the Entertainment Lions is such an important category within the festival?

From an industry point of view, what we are seeing, and have seen for some time now, is a real blurring of the lines between advertising and entertainment. We all know that the old, interruption marketing model no longer works – audiences have too many options, they have too much control. They can PVR you, they can put in an ad-blocker – they can avoid your advertising message very easily. So what that has meant is that marketers have to find ways to become a seamless part of the content that audiences choose to consume.

That’s given rise to this world of branded content and branded entertainment, where a brand actually makes themselves an integral part of the entertainment, rather than an ad in the middle of the entertainment that people have chosen to consume.

I think, from an advertising and marketing point of view, branded entertainment is the new frontier, [as well as] from an entertainment point of view, because it’s a new funding model. From an industry point of view, there’s no doubt that this is part of the sequel to what we used to refer to as ‘traditional’ or ‘classical’ advertising.

For me, the intersection of entertainment and branded content is not only one of the most important areas, but also one of the areas I feel most confident working in.

The brief for the Entertainment Lions says that “entries need to demonstrate ideas that […] communicate a brand message or connect with consumers in a new way.” What are some of the things you are expecting to see in the entries?

What I’m hoping to see is work that goes beyond traditional product placement, or the pasting of a brand on top of a piece of content. That is not interesting – we’ve seen companies put their brand into films of episodes of series.

True branded content or branded entertainment is when you really drill down to what the essence of the brand is about and then you construct a piece of content that is an expression, at its core, of that essence.

I think we’re going to see everything from music videos to films to live performances. Any kind of entertainment that audiences are choosing to consume that are now partnered with a brand in some way to bring the brand essence across in a compelling way.

You can create an amazing piece of entertainment and stick your brand on it, but if it’s not communicating the essence of what the brand is about then it’s pointless as well. You’ve made a cool movie, but you’ve done no work for the brand. It’s not about the logo, but it absolutely is about the brand and about the entertainment. It’s the 100% symbiotic marriage between those two.

Why do you think it’s important to recognise excellence in award ceremonies such as Cannes Entertainment Lions?

Ultimately, award shows of all kinds allow us to shine a light on the best, most progressive examples of work that are out there. That is important because it allows us, as a community for marketers and artists, to create benchmarks and to share what is best about what we are doing.

Awards are important because they get exposure for the artists and agencies, and they give us a stage that can benefit all parties. This helps to motivate the creation of even better work.

At the end of the day, it’s not just about which movie sold the most tickets or which advertiser sold the most chicken, it is about what has progressed media.

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Interested in finding out more about Xenopoulos’ company, NATIVE VML? Read more about it in our article, Jason Xenopoulos on VML and Y&R Africa Group.