Q&A: Ayzenberg EVP/ECD, Clio Awards Jury Chair Scott Cookson

The pandemic canceled the 2020 Clio Awards which means 2021 jurors have double the amount of work to vote on: this year’s entries and last. As they assess remotely, we spoke with Games Jury Chair for the Clio Entertainment Awards and Ayzenberg executive vice president and executive creative director, Scott Cookson. Cookson has been on many juries over the years but this marks his first stint as jury chair. Ahead, the games marketing veteran shares what entertainment marketers should consider when entering, what sets great work apart from award-winning work and how submissions are shaping up so far. 

As jury chair of the Clio Awards this year, what advice do you have for entertainment marketers looking to enter?

One very important thing to remember about the Clio is that they are awards for creativity. So regardless of how successful or unsuccessful the marketing initiative was, it’s not really relevant to what we’re evaluating.

We’re not looking for the scope, the reach or the success of the campaign. We’re looking for how creative and innovative the ideas were. It really is a celebration of creativity and the people who do that work. So if anyone feels like they’ve done something unique and distinctive and memorable, then I would say absolutely enter the work into the Clios.

We get many people who do case studies and talk about how effective the campaign was, which as a marketer, is ultimately our objective and our job; to sell our clients’ products or services. But that’s not how we judge things in the Clios. Again, we judge solely on originality and creativity.

Other than creativity, what other criteria are considered when judging the creative?

I’ve actually been voting today, so the voting has already started and we’re about halfway through the process right now. There’s some really good stuff. We’re also going through last year given that it was canceled. It’s a lot of work going through two years’ worth of entries.

What they’re looking for is originality and innovation. They don’t actually tell us how to judge. They leave much of the power in our hands to decide what we think creative is, what we think good work is. They don’t give us much guidance other than to focus on the creativity and not on effectiveness, reach or budget. 

The other interesting thing that a lot of people forget or don’t know is that it’s not like there’s always one gold, one silver and one bronze. Some years there may be no awards given in a particular category because we don’t think anything meets the standard, or we can award 15 golds. 

So everything is judged on its own merits. It’s not as much of a competition against the other entries as you’d imagine. So, for example, there can be two trailers in a category and we give them both golds or we give them both silvers or we give one gold and one bronze, or one gets a shortlist and one gets nothing. It’s whatever we think the work deserves based on its own creative execution.

Based on the work you’ve voted on so far, have you noticed a common theme?

The big one is no surprise – no live events and a shift to virtual events. And of course, that makes sense given the pandemic. But creatively, I’m not sure I can say there’s a trend I can identify. Although that said, I think I’ve seen more music-related partnerships than I have in past years.

I’m sure people have tactically decided that they weren’t going to do real-world experiential advertising like IRL events. So there isn’t very much of that type of work. Nevertheless, there are likely more digital and live streaming events—things that are safe and remote.

It’s worth noting here that in the entertainment industry, there can easily be a formulaic approach to things. We’ve all seen trailers and can argue that they seem to feel very similar to one another. We’ve all seen a lot of different key art posters for movies or games. They all seem to share certain commonalities that we are all kind of used to, right? So the work that really kind of breaks or plays with those norms and expectations, and who tries to rise above that baseline; they try and do something different. For me personally, the creative that tends to rank higher is the work that stands out and gets noticed and takes your breath away or is more memorable. 

What role, if any, do you think nostalgia plays in breaking from those norms and nailing the creativity of the work? 

I think it’s going to be situational and it’s going to really depend on the IP. When I look back at, for example, a movie like Han Solo for Star Wars, Star Wars has an incredible amount of nostalgia infused into it. When they did their key art, it really had a nostalgic feel to it that worked really well for them. But when you take a step back, that actually makes sense for Star Wars—you want that kind of nostalgic feeling when it comes to a franchise with older fans. They want those older fans to feel like they’re getting what they remember from when they were kids and they want the kids to have that same experience. It all kind of makes sense.

On the other hand, there are certain games or entertainment properties that don’t need or want a nostalgic play. For example, it might be a brand new IP that doesn’t tie to anything nostalgic whatsoever. So, to answer your question, it does depend really on the IP. I think you have to strategize based on your IP and who it appeals to. Only then can you determine how best to target that specific audience, and nostalgia can be one of those arrows you pull out, but it might not always be the right one depending on what you’re working on.

Culturally, we know that nostalgia is something Gen Z finds appealing and I think it works for plenty of other audiences as well. You can see that manifested in annual gaming titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War or new IPs like Deathloop. And of course, when you market those titles, you’re going to lean into that nostalgia, and that’s going to be a driving creative influence, especially on things like music, design or motion graphics. I feel like nostalgia is a topic I hear come up often in strategy discussions over the last year or so in relation to Gen Z, but every generation has its own relationship to nostalgia.

Is there a piece of work you’ve seen this or last year that just blew you away? 

Yes, definitely. I can’t talk about it too much, so I won’t say the title. But there is a game whose assets I find incredibly compelling and that checks all those boxes I was discussing earlier where it breaks the mold in terms of creativity and innovation. It’s not your typical trailer and it’s very unexpected. 

Frequently when evaluating work and determining how to grade it relative to others, I ask myself whether this is something that I wish I would have made. And if so, would I be proud of it? Would I be showing it to all my friends? Would I be putting it into my portfolio? Am I jealous that I didn’t get to work on it? And this one piece of work definitely checks all of those boxes and has been entered in a lot of things. I think it will do very well. 

We get a wide mixture of work—some that while not horrible, are lacking something special, or just too common. And then there are works that leave you with an emotion or that take your breath away or that you can’t stop thinking about and you wish you would have done what they did. Those are the ones that really rise above the rest and become the Grand Clios, which is actually the ultimate prize in all of this. 

Is there an area you believe that marketers fall short in creating good creative? 

Whether it’s lack of time, budget, talent, initiative or bravery, it’s easy in entertainment to play by the rules and follow the cookie-cutter approach to doing just about anything from key art to trailers. The work that really rises above, though, is the work that doesn’t do that. It doesn’t follow the easy way out. It’s the one that really takes time to think about doing something special, risky, unique and memorable. Marketers must remember that these factors are critical to producing work that becomes special and noticeable. And while they don’t have to check off all of them, they usually have to have at least some of them to create a work that stands above the rest. 

On the games jury, we vote on a huge range of work. I’m not a hundred percent positive, but in some of the other categories like in theatrical, they organize by discipline. But the games jury is voting on trailers, brand partnerships, PR, digital and social campaigns. And certainly, not everyone is an expert in all of these things. We all come from different worlds—some from the agency side, some from the client-side. Others may be vice presidents of marketing and touch on everything a little bit. Some people come from a digital agency or specialize in social only. So it’s really interesting to be exposed to that incredible range of work. 

I’ve been on the jury a few times. This is my first time as jury chair, but I’ve been on the jury many times, over my career, going back to when it was the Key Art Award. When the jury finally convenes at the end to discuss the awards, that’s really the fun part. We have these great conversations about the work and debates about what should get what. Typically we’re in a theater watching the works for an entire day. This year will be a little different obviously, with everyone working remotely, and so they’ve created a platform that’ll replicate that in-person feeling we’re used to. We’ll be reviewing hundreds of entries given that this year’s Clio includes 2020’s entries as well. 

Can you share a little about the Clio awards Ayzenberg has won?

I’ve been with the company for two and a half, three years, and since that time there have been two Clios. So when I came, there was a Clio and then there was COVID and now there’s another Clio coming. In that first one, I believe we won five or six Clios—one of them was for one of my favorite trailers that we’ve done, a CG trailer for Deathloop.

And I believe that won silver for best CG trailer, and I think it won for copywriting and (…) for music. There were some other things that won Clios that year as well. I think another piece we did for Assassin’s Creed won. And then there was some social that won as well. So there were a number of Clios that the agency won.

We have a lot of work entered this year as well, probably 10 to 20 entries. Because all jurors must abstain from voting on work from the company in which you work, I won’t be able to vote on any of Ayzenberg’s entries. 

In the first round of judging, it’s essentially the weed-out stage where everyone gets a third of the work and we decide whether it’s in or out. So I haven’t even seen everything yet. I’ve only seen 30% of the entries. We now take all the work that’s in and judge it.

As EVP and ECD, where do you find inspiration?

At this point, I try to find inspiration from the people I work with. I’m really focused on building and managing teams and inspiring creatives to be the best they can be, doing great work and putting them in a position to succeed. I am amazed at the talent that I’m surrounded by and how incredible all these people are, and how passionate they are about the space and their work.

I’m really trying my best to let them realize their creative vision. 

In a way, I started as an editor and that’s a talent that I learned a long time ago, because a lot of times as an editor, you’re sort of inheriting this vision of a writer or a director who maybe wrote a script or shot a movie and they have a passion or a vision that they’re trying to achieve. And as the editor, you’re coming in fresh and helping them shape what they want to do to realize their goals. In a lot of ways, I feel like that’s what I’m doing with all the teams I work with here. In a way, even though it’s not a common path to be an editor that becomes a creative director that then becomes an ECD, for me, it worked out well that way. That path has taught me many skills about how to work with people and how to craft creative and inspire people to get to where they want to go.

What does putting your team in a position to succeed entail? 

It’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of a thing. Nevertheless, I try to manage from a position of accepting that the work and the ideas are not mine, they’re theirs. I try to not have a sense of ownership over it. I also think about what they’re trying to achieve and what they’re trying to say. And then with that perspective, I critique the work in a way that helps them to see the possibilities or the limitations of where they’re at in that particular moment. So it’s really about trying to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they’re trying to do and also knowing what the client’s objectives are and then bridging that gap and getting to a place where those things meet in the most successful way possible.

How have games shaped your trajectory?

I’ve been working in games marketing for almost 20 years. I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and I was working as a trailer editor. I started working in games at that time and joined a company called Ant Farm in 2004. Ant Farm became a leader and innovator in the game trailer space and gameplay capture space, and making trailers that had emotion and told a story, were more narrative-based and not just a sizzle reel of clips to an EDM cue.

One of the first trailers I cut was for a game that was just coming out at the time called Call of Duty and they became a big client of Ant Farm. And we worked with them for over 15 years and did a lot of other huge games as well. I launched Destiny, worked on a lot of Assassin’s Creed games, Far Cry—so a lot of huge IPs over the years. When Ant Farm closed in 2018, I brought the games team from Ant Farm over to Ayzenberg. We’ve been part of this family ever since.

Experts Weigh In On Shoppable Ads Trends

As traditional shopping increasingly wanes, retailers are ramping up investment in shoppable ads. From livestreams and Google Shopping to Checkout on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and Product Pins on Pinterest, these shoppable forms enable consumers to go from discovery to purchase in seconds, leading to greater profits. Ahead, executives from AcuityAds, Joyned, Wunderkind and Clinch share the trends that brands should keep ahead of as retail strategies evolve to favor shoppable media.

Shoppable Media Helps Advertisers Shorten Path To Purchase And Build Relationships With Consumers

Seraj Bharwani, AcuityAds chief strategy officer, says to keep in mind shoppable media’s two objectives. The first is to facilitate the path to purchase with direct access to ecommerce. In-stream, in-video, in-feed and in-Pin transactions allow advertisers to build efficient access to their ecommerce sites and facilitate the sale. These formats are best for small-ticket and impulse purchases where the consumer’s decision journey is naturally short – for example, consumer packaged goods, wellness and beauty categories.

The second objective, according to Bharwani, is that shoppable media intend to help advertisers achieve first-party relationships with consumers. While it cannot guarantee a transaction for considered purchases, shoppable media can meet consumers during the exploratory stage of their decision journey, for example when seeking financial services, healthcare and automobiles. Nevertheless, front-end media alone will not decrease the journey for such purchases given that they often take weeks to months to complete the transaction. In this context, brands require post-media exposure to increase sales productivity.

Address The Experience, Not Just Driving Behavior

According to Joyned chief executive officer Jonathan Abraham, true social shopping is about addressing the consumer’s experience and going beyond Facebook Shops or clicking on Instagram Ads. 

Retailers can help reduce reliance on third-party social media platforms by offering virtual spaces where friends can have private, ‘dressing room’ conversations, notes Abraham. Doing so will drive higher organic traffic and average orders while also increasing lifetime customer value.

Adapt To The Consumer And How They Want To Communicate With A Brand

Where social media was once a tool to discover new products, it has now become the channel where products are purchased. Wunderkind president Michael Osborne stresses the importance of recognizing that every touchpoint in a consumer’s shopping experience has the potential to lead to revenue. To capitalize on this fact, brands must offer an authentic, personalized and experience-evoking email, text or direct message. 

Wunderkind’s research found that 51 percent of US consumers view email as the most effective form of communication from brands, followed by text (38 percent), in-app messaging (23 percent) and instant messaging (22 percent). Among the four forms of communication listed here, brands underutilize text messaging in particular. Not only does this channel help brands achieve a direct line of communication unavailable elsewhere, but it also allows for easy sharing of links to personalized promotions.

To earn loyal consumers and develop a reputation for reliability, brands must offer more than quality products and active social channels—they must adapt to the consumer and recognize how they want to be engaged with and through what channels while continuing to prioritize their interests and needs, according to Osborne.

The Importance Of The Consumer Experience In Shoppable Media

The personalization of shoppable ad units was the last element that commerce brands had envisioned addressable TV would solve for. According to Oz Etzioni, chief executive officer and co-founder of Clinch, enabling ‘shoppability’ doesn’t solve for the redundancy of the same irrelevant shoppable units being served to the consumer. 

Clinch personalization has the ability to reflect tonality and inconspicuous call-to-actions that allow shoppers to respond to on their own time—whether by pausing their show to make a purchase online or scanning a QR code as they continue watching their live program uninterrupted. As Etzioni notes, by personalizing the shopping ad, brands can improve the user experience with the effect of making the user more receptive to the message and less likely to exit the stream or app.

Brands must make the path to purchase as seamless as possible during 2021’s holiday season given the uncertainties associated with the intersection of shelter-in-place and work-from-home shopping habits with supply chain and shipping issues, according to Etzioni. Apart from sales lift and return on investment, shoppable ads may also be used to reinforce relationships with retailer platforms and provide helpful information regarding consumer preferences.

Holiday 2021 Spending Set To Reach $998 Per Person

Consumers plan to spend about $998 on gifts, holiday items and other non-gift purchases for themselves and their families this year. That’s according to a new report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Despite pandemic-induced supply chain disruption, this is on par with consumer spending last year though it’s still slightly below the pre-pandemic high of $1,047.83. The difference may be explained by the fact that fewer consumers intend on purchasing non-gift items for themselves and their families, according to the NRF.

This year, 90 percent of US adults intend on celebrating the upcoming holidays whereas only 87 percent celebrated in 2020. Forty-seven percent of holiday shoppers will be taking advantage of sales or discounts while shopping for non-gift items with a total average of $118.81. Pre-pandemic, 60 percent of shoppers expected to make these purchases with an average total of $162.02. As many continue to work remotely, shoppers are also less inclined to purchase gifts for coworkers, found the NRF.

Holiday shopping has started earlier this year than ever before as 49 percent of holiday shoppers will begin perusing and purchasing before November—seven percentage points higher than in 2020, according to the report.  The percent of shoppers who have started shopping before November ranged from 39 percent to 41 percent between 2011 and 2019. 

To avoid the stress of procrastinating this year, 47 percent of consumers said they’ll be shopping in October or earlier while 36 percent plan to do so in order to obtain key holiday items before they’re unavailable. According to Nikki Baird, vice president of retail innovation at Aptos, while there will be a lot of online demand, there’s a hard, upper limit to that demand. 

“The same capacity constraints on shipping still exist for consumer packages too, which means cutoff days for non-expedited shipping may come earlier, as well as the cutoff even for expedited shipping with a guaranteed delivery date,” Baird noted.

Supply chain hurdles sparked by the pandemic have impacted holiday shopper behavior as 47 percent are concerned about locating products such as electronics (44 percent), clothes (40 percent) and toys (28 percent).

“There will be fewer choices. Retailers and brands are leaning heavily on safe bets, rather than anything that is more recent and may not have had as much visibility or awareness. I did see a few Space Jam toys, but for example, a lot of the featured toys are dinosaur toys, but they’re generic toys, not Jurassic World branded (even though the franchise has a film release scheduled for June 2022),” said Baird.

Online shopping will remain most holiday shoppers’ preference. Last year saw 60 percent of shoppers identify online as a holiday shopping destination while only 57 percent identify it as such in 2021—consistent with pre-pandemic levels. 

Other destinations include department stores (47 percent), discount stores (44 percent), grocery stores (43 percent) and clothing and accessories stores (30 percent). Twenty-four percent of survey respondents will patronize local or small businesses.

These findings are based on a survey the NRF conducted among 7,921 consumers from October 1-10.

When Sustainability Impacts Performance With Jennie Perry From Grove Collaborative

Jennie Perry is the CMO at Grove Collaborative, which creates and curates high-performing, planet-first products across many categories. Jennie leads their marketing strategy and is responsible for product marketing and driving consumer engagement and product demand.

Before joining Grove, Jennie spent nine years working in Amazon, most recently as CMO of Prime and Amazon North America, where she led Prime Day and Prime marketing global.

In this episode, Jennie and I discuss growth, sustainability and CPG, and why they can be so hard to achieve. Jennie says, “You don’t have to sacrifice performance for sustainability. The common misconception out there is that it’s a trade-off, but you can’t have one without the other.” Listen to the full episode to hear why Grove Collaborative is on a mission to make sustainability more accessible to the public. Tune in to hear the creative ways they are making this a reality.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to transform products into a force for human and environmental good
  • The importance of broadening channel diversity
  • Why companies should make sustainability more accessible 

Key Highlights:

  • [01:44] Wiping out in front of Beyonce and Jay Z
  • [04:48] Where Jennie’s career all began
  • [10:18] What brought Jennie to Grove 
  • [12:24] Making it easier for customers to buy sustainable products
  • [15:35] Tackling sustainability—starting with plastics
  • [20:10] Changing packaging to save water
  • [23:11] Expanding marketing efforts and channels as a company
  • [28:01] Developing a TV campaign 
  • [30:15] Lessons learned along the way 
  • [36:00] An experience that defines Jennie, makes her who she is 
  • [37:14] Jennie’s advice for her younger self
  • [38:07] A topic marketers should be learning more about 
  • [39:03] The brands and organizations Jennie follows 
  • [41:18] The biggest threat to marketers today 

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Alan B. Hart is the creator and host of “Marketing Today with Alan Hart,” a weekly podcast where he interviews leading global marketing professionals and business leaders. Alan advises leading executives and marketing teams on brand, customer experience, innovation, and growth opportunities. He has consulted with Fortune 100 companies, but he is an entrepreneur at his core, having founded or served as an executive for nine companies.