The Classic and the cutting-edge: CMA winners show content marketing's remarkable diversity

The 2014 CMA award winners show just how diverse content marketing is, from cutting-edge use of social media, to a wicked spoof and classic use of long-form, thought leadership, content. Dominic Mills, the CMA’s consultant editor, casts his eye over this year’s prize winners.

Marketers faced with a difficult challenge – and there are none that are easy these days – could be well advised to devote a couple of hours to going over the winners at this year’s Content Marketing Association (CMA) awards.

There, they will find a huge variety of solutions used to conquer all range of issues. Some use it to achieve cut-through and brand recognition (like; some to retain,  upsell or cross-sell customers (Plumb Center, a trade supplier to plumbers, or Sainsbury’s Bank); others to build trust and long-term relationships (like RBS and Fujitsu); and some for real-time marketing (Adidas and McDonald’s); and some for straightforward engagement (BA).  

The phrase that comes to mind is ‘horses for all courses’. Content takes many forms, and uses many formats (an increasing number, including user-generated content). It uses many different media, from good old print, to video, and all things digital, including social.

Better than that, as these awards show, it works. All the winners here produced results that changed, or enhanced, their businesses.

Clare Hill, managing director of the CMA says: “These are a fantastic set of winners, testament to the increasing levels of innovation and creativity we are seeing in content marketing. The sheer breadth of winners shows how content marketing is now right at the top table for marketers of any kind, in any industry. Content’s ability to produce effective solutions is unparalleled.”

Let’s start with the Grand Prix winner, Seven’s work for A jobsite with a generic name like Jobsite isn’t a particularly promising place to start, certainly not when you’re chasing cut-through and brand recognition in a crowded and, on the surface at least, undifferentiated market. The central part of its solution was a wicked video spoof of The Apprentice ( featuring a cast of hapless wannabe tycoons and skewering the falseness of TV reality shows. The aim: build the brand with the two key audiences of recruiters and candidates.

The result saw 750,000 YouTube views, 11,000 new registered candidates, a 173pc increase in search volumes and, crucially, a 516pc drop in spend in areas like TV and paid search (

Going real-time with social

There was no bigger event in 2014 than the World Cup, with brands of every size and shape trying to cash in. Big budgets help, but the battle isn’t won by big TV adverts alone. The key is to be always-on, available wherever and whenever fans wants to engage – which means going real-time and using social media.

It also means exhaustive, detailed planning, something both Adidas and McDonald’s used to great advantage. For Adidas agency We are Social, this meant six months mapping out every fixture, every story and anticipating every opportunity for its #allinornothing campaign ( An army of content creators located in its Rio newsroom pumped out material on social media, responding to results and events within seconds or minutes.

The numbers are mind-boggling: 32m YouTube views, 967,00 hashtag uses, and 1.2m brand mentions on Twitter. No wonder Bloomberg confidently awarded Adidas victory in the battle of the brands (

But if Adidas has credibility in the football space, McDonald’s – despite its long-term presence as a sponsor – is still perceived my many as inappropriate and unable to lock on to football currencies like ‘passion’ or ‘fans’. Its answer was to create content that linked its brand with the World Cup in a relevant, entertaining and credible way: using fries (yes, really) to recreate moments from matches.

A giant model stadium complete with fans was built from 10,000 fries. Hand puppeteers operated fry footballers, and short films were made overnight – 30, one a day, all told ( This near-real-time video was placed on YouTube and linked to Facebook news feeds to target at scale by media agency OMD.

As you might expect, with 50m YouTube views, McDonald’s sold a lot of Fry Boxes, but just as significantly it recorded significant increases in brand favourability and purchase consideration, linked to a 7pc increase in its recognition as an ‘appropriate’ sponsor.

Targeting millennials in its #BestSummerEver campaign, BA also used social media in combination with its owned print and the web channels. Influential ‘vloggers’ were commissioned by long-time BA content agency Cedar to create YouTube videos highlighting the unexpected side of destinations like Amsterdam, Ibiza and Malta (, coupled with a UGC competition on Instagram that attracted 4,500 entries ( At its peak, the campaign saw BA Twitter followers increase by over 1,000 a day, a 73pc increase on the normal level ( 

Thought leadership remains a valuable currency

Of course, for many brands, especially those in the B2B space, thought leadership remains a key influencing tool. Here, print is a valuable medium, although by no means the only one, but increasingly used in combination with digital to add value or provide additional targeting.

For two brands that have gone through difficult times, RBS and public sector outsourcer Serco, content is a key part of their propositions, allowing them to rebuild trust and own issues that resonate with their customers.

Produced by John Brown, RBS’s Business Agenda magazine ( appears three times a year in its core print version, scaled up digitally for local news and additional specialist supplements. According to a readership survey, a quarter of recipients discussed issues raised in the magazine with their RBS contact.

Ethos magazine allows Serco to place itself at the centre of the ongoing debate about public-private partnerships, while at the same time telling stories about its work and people. The print title, produced by Sunday, is backed up by monthly online updates and e-mail newsletters (  It has clearly struck a chord with its niche, but important, readership. Site visits rose by 45pc between January and August this year, while on the day of the Cabinet reshuffle in July, site traffic increased by 632pc as readers rushed to devour profiles of newly appointed ministers.

Enterprise IT solutions provider Fujitsu provides an online-only title, I-Global Intelligence for the CIO (, targeting the elusive corporate Chief Information Officer with whom it engages via star writers, big-name client CIOs and content that compares with that of the Harvard Business Review. And when the content is right, they engage with a gusto. Links to one feature were distributed to 340,000 readers within 30 minutes of its publication.

The joy of print

One of the things I’ve learnt in the content marketing space is that only a fool would discount the impact of a beautifully designed and presented print title. For certain audiences, it’s the right medium for the right message.

Your average plumber, for example, may be digitally connected, but he/she also wants a magazine that fits into the glove box of the Transit. Plumb Parts (, produced by Redactive for the Plumb Center, whose content includes tips and best practice advice, is read for an average of 24 minutes per issue by its 100,000 readers, and 89pc say it contains information that helps them do their job better.

Like plumbers, the ‘flat-age’ cruisers who are members of P&O’s Peninsular Club, appreciate the value the quarterly Our World ( magazine brings when it comes to selecting their next holiday. Published by August (accessorised with e-mail and app extras), the title mixes stunning photography with travel writing, and drives sales too: an average 2,300 bookings per issue, equivalent to around £3m in revenue. 

Does photography sell product? Of course, as John Lewis knows all too well with its House catalogue, produced by John Brown.  Photography was a key part of its plan to attract a younger audience. Using a style that sat between location and studio shoots, and fanatical attention to detail (including 14 coats of paint on the chair on the cover), the spring/summer catalogue produced an ROI of 3:1 and generated an incremental 17pc of sales.

Producing a magazine for a charity is difficult. It’s got to be on-message, but avoid compassion fatigue among donors. Smoke Creative’s Here: a magazine about where we live seeks to capture the high ground for housing charity Shelter. Newsprint, it echoes the design and content of, say, the Guardian’s G2 section, and complete with big-name contributors like Jarvis Cocker, artist David Shrigley and philosopher Alain de Botton.

Strategically, it uses a revealing insight: that ‘home’ is central to a person’s idea of themselves, and with content that taps into that it can build empathy between donors and the homeless. It’s working with the donor base too. Fundraisers giving out a copy of Here reported higher levels of donor sign-up; and Here readers who are contacted to upgrade their donations are giving £7 more per annum than budgeted. 

What do all these winners have in common? To me, it boils down to three things: incisive insight and great content allied to optimised distribution.

You can read more about all the winners here (

Posted in CMA news
16thDec 2014

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