And the winner of campaign of the year is…

Great diagnosis, smart insight, clever use of media and inventive execution, Sheba’s ‘4am Stories’ is a masterclass in simple but highly effective marketing.

Sheba 4am Stories
Source: Sheba

It’s December, which means – aside from the snow, bad news about cricket and the gradual dissolution of the UK Government – it is marketing awards season!

With the number of industry events growing exponentially and ceremonies tripling the number of prizes they award each year, most marketers have been caught up in award season frenzy. The last two weeks have been a 24/7 struggle to judge, attend, get pissed, humblebrag on social media, get more pissed and then move onto the next event as the December carousel of marketing awards rotates on and on and on.

Like most marketers, I have been repeatedly humbled by my massive success and industry wide recognition once again. I was incredibly humbled to be recognised as one of the ’52 Marketers Under 52′ by the Medical Marketers Association (Birmingham Section). That humility was further tested the very next night with third place in the ‘Sagittarian Brand Builder of the Year’ at the Electrical Marketing Awards night in Croydon.

Then came the big one: ‘Best Use of Profanity in the Digital and Direct Marketing Industries, B2B Section’. Finally, I had to recognise myself again, with yet more humility, when I attended a glittering event in Room 242 of the Paddington Hilton to accept an Honourable Mention for the ‘Most Awarded Marketer Award of the Year’ trophy.

It’s fair to say that marketing might just be getting just a little bit carried away with judging, awards and recognition, and forgetting that our prize is profit and our recognition is salary. It’s equally fair to say that I have tried – with all my professional might – to avoid getting sucked into becoming a judge of any of it. Not (just) because I am fundamentally lazy and almost exclusively interested in myself but also because I think most of the awards on offer are a big bag of wank.

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So, when Google emailed to ask if I would judge its Homeshow Awards this year my hand instantly reached for the big red “Fuck Off” button on my desk. But then I thought about it a little more and for some strange, powerful reason I decided that a yes was more in order. Then I completely forgot all about it until the delightful Google people began to send me a zillion things about the awards and submissions and judging.

To my enormous surprise, I was quite impressed with some of the submissions. Not all of them obviously – some were total pants. But there were a couple that really caught the eye. And there was one that I just adored. Despite 10 different award categories, Google don’t have a Grand Prix for the best of the best submission. But I am going to make a defacto, entirely worthless and unauthorised decision, and create an 11th award for Best Overall Campaign of the Year. And I want to give this new, completely made-up prize to Sheba, the Mars catfood brand.

Aside from winning best holistic and best creative campaign, Sheba’s ‘4am Stories’ developed with AMV BBDO was just a smashingly brilliant bit of communications.

I am a simple man. I have basic expectations for good marketing which are rarely, if ever, satiated. I want to see a really good, market oriented diagnosis of the market.

Long before any tactics or campaigns are even considered, I love to see marketers learning from the market. Then I like to see the subsequent insights that emerge from diagnosis feeding into a clear, simple strategy that fits the demands of the brand in question. And, finally, I love me a bit of creative, disruptive, distinctive execution that delivers the strategy with flair and impact and a whoosh of elan and impact.

And with Sheba’s 4am Stories I got it all. First there was the brilliant, but entirely accurate, insight that cats wake their owners in the middle of the night. Specifically, around 4am when they should be hunting and feeding they take it out on their sleeping owners in a very disruptive feline fashion. This wakes up the cat owner who then, invariably, turns to their phone for comfort and assistance in falling back to sleep. But as all of us know – YouTube is not always a comforting sleep partner. A lot of the content, especially if you let it play out while you doze, can end up waking you back up again.

So, Sheba went beyond the usual cliched catfood tropes of smiling cats and empty bowls, and designed material to help desperate cat owners get back to sleep. Sheba was not messing around with this stuff either, it consulted with sleep experts to create exactly the right kind of content. There was a Spotify sleep track, for example, and a five-hour YouTube video with a suitably smooth Francophone voiceover and nocturnal scenes of chickens and oil paintings to send people back to the land of Nod. Rather than me describe this madness, I strongly recommend a visit. You don’t need a cat for this amazing video to do the business.

The sleep video received more than 8 million views. In the first four nights of the campaign. Four nights! And the fact that 84% of these views occurred around 4am suggests that not only were cat owners awake at this time, but that the film was resonating and working for them. Outside of YouTube, the campaign utilised a host of other integrated channels like PR and social, to ensure other cat owners became aware of the endeavour and the availability of the sleep aid. The results created a 100% uplift in ad recall from a campaign that, thanks to targeting and clever content, did not cost the earth.

From the initial insight, to the clever use of YouTube, to the wonderful creative execution – this is a smashing bit of brand work. One that builds salience and a potentially five-hour long touchpoint. Great marketing. And I should know, I was judged the 74th Best Marketing Judge in the 2021 Award Show Award Awards last night at Grosvenor House.