Brands on Fire: Meta’s Head of Experiential & Creative, Global Experiences, on ‘Reels Cinema’ at Cannes Lions

Posted on by Kaylee Hultgren

Photo credit: Luke Hayes

When Meta activated for marketers, brands and creatives during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last week, it once again tapped the creative vision of Es Devlin, a world-renowned stage designer behind Instagram’s critically-acclaimed Storyscape activation at the 2018 festival. Devlin’s “Reels Cinema,” a structure built from the ground up within the Meta Beach footprint, featured a seven-minute film crafted in 9:16 vertical video. We spoke with Meta’s Head of Experiential & Creative, Global Experiences, Damien Baines about the inspiration behind the activation, the film’s themes, the project’s business strategy and much more.

Chief Marketer: What was Instagram’s focus at Cannes this year?

Damien Baines, Experiential Lead at Instagram

Damien Baines, Head of Experiential & Creative, Global Experiences, at Meta: We’re focused on creativity and specifically performant creative for Reels. Creativity is important, not just because of the imaginative spark and sheer beauty that it fosters, but also for the business impact.

You and I talked about this last year with the Reels SuperStudio. This year we wanted to approach it a bit differently and use cinema as our inspiration… because it brings together stories, community and technology through creativity.

If you look at our Reels creative essentials, which are 9:16 video, Sound On and Safe Zones, it mirrors a lot of what you find in the development of cinema. The beginning of cinema was silent movies—black and white. Then you go to sound, and then you go to color and 3D and all these other technological innovations. We found a lot of parallels with that, so we focused on creating this through the lens of cinema.

CM: You’ve typically promoted short-form video features. Why did you go with a long-form theme with cinema?

DB: It’s relative. The film itself is about seven minutes. The way that we look at Reels: It’s our video product. And right now you can post a Reel [lasting] up to 15 minutes. So while we have been, in the past, focused on short-form, it all works with the Reels product.

CM: How did the film experience come about? What was the inspiration?

DB: We have so much inherent power in our platforms, by empowering creators/storytellers to tell their own story. When I was thinking about potential auteurs that we could collaborate with, we wanted somebody who had a signature, distinctive point of view. And we love the work that we did with Es back in 2018 with Storyscape.

We wanted to take one of the Reels’ creative essentials, the 9:16 vertical video, and amplify that … and do a vertical film. When we approached her about doing a project like this, she confessed to us that this is going to be a really interesting challenge for [her] because [she] has a personal bias towards 16:9 landscape. She said, ‘but I have noticed my teenage daughter, and every time she captures something, she captures it in 9:16 or portrait mode.’ She thought to herself, as a creative: I myself need to expand my own approach and my own horizons. Otherwise, things just keep going and innovating and changing. She recognized that if she didn’t do that, she would be stuck in her own journey as an artist.

In terms of thematics, what she was focused on this year was eliminating the seeming separation between people, places and things, and highlighting the illusory nature of that separation. That’s how we got to [the title] “There Is No Other.” This stems from continued conversation she and I personally had during quarantine about the world’s sustainability, the environment systems and some reading that we had done that had influenced our conversations and our discussions.

So we thought we would do a film that was a statement about the relationship of human beings to this place that we live called Earth and to each other in our environment—but from a macro lens and not being prescriptive or suggestive, [saying] ‘this is what you should do to save the planet’ or anything like that. The central thesis… is that every human being is simply another version of every other human being. If you wanted to reduce it into just one line, the film is an exploration of that.

CM: This is more of a sit-back experience where people experience the film, which is quite different than your last two years where attendees participated more in the activation.

DB: It is very different. We have created an actual cinema on the beach. It is our largest footprint ever. It is a dual-sided theater… In the architecture, we blended the era of the movie palace to the multiplex and a bit of stage theater. When you first enter, you will be in an auditorium that seats about 15 people with a large 9:16 vertical screen that is super immersive. Before you enter the theater, we offer you concessions in a box—a treat that has popcorn and classic movie candies, because we’re trying to evoke the cinematic experience. Then the film opens—actually in a 16:9 aspect ratio… [Es] begins this exploration towards the illusory nature of things, how we perceive things as not actually as they are in reality.

The film continues and expands from that 16:9 aspect ratio into this full immersive 9:16 vertical film and screen. And this is where a bit of the stage theater magic comes in because we want to highlight the expansive nature of vertical video and offer it as a possibility for natively creating within it—that is not just simply a good for a cut-down from your landscape 16:9 orientation.

Photo credit: Luke Hayes

CM: Have you incorporated any brand partnerships or any education on how brands could use this?

DB: After you leave the theater, we invite you to a content creation area where we will have attendees recreate scenes from the film using our AR technology. We have some very beautiful moments that we think are worth celebrating. This is about tapping into creating stories on our platform as inspired by the craft of filmmaking.

CM: I noticed that there are some workshops in the program. You’re encouraging attendees to experience that beforehand?

DB: We’re offering multiple points of entry of experience. You could start with content creation and then see the film and then go to a workshop, or you can go to a workshop and see the film and then do content creation. It’s all about the power of Reels from multiple perspectives, and each one is offering a different exploration of that dynamic power.

CM: What’s the value of doing such a huge activation at Cannes? Why is it important for the brand to get people engaged on the beach?

DB: Well, after you have done the activations that we’ve done over the number of years, there’s a certain standard. I’m very proud of all the work that we have done since I’ve been responsible for activations on the beach, beginning back in 2016, with those Instagram activations. What we want to highlight is the responsibility that we feel that we have to culture and giving back and reflecting back—as stewards of one of the most creative platforms, and multiple creative platforms—but specifically, Instagram historically at the beach. It is a reflection of who we are and what we believe in as Meta.

CM: What do you want attendees—brands, marketers, people in the creative space—to take away from this, from both a creative impression standpoint and also from a business perspective?

DB: It is about our creative essentials. We are amplifying and focusing on one, even though they’re all important: the 9:16 video. We know that Reels ads with creative essentials—9:16 video, Audio-on and Safe Zones—resulted in a 15% decrease of CPA versus non-9:16 video ads without audio and Reels. We also see an increase in reach across Reels, Feed and Stories in VR campaigns when you take those same creative essentials and add it with other creative elements. You get a 11% increase in reach.

As I mentioned before, it is not just about the imagination and the beauty that creativity fosters—it has real business impact. And what we’re focused on ultimately is return on investment to our advertisers. And then we also want people to be inspired and reconsider 9:16 video as something that is worthy of creation.

As we were meditating on how we were approaching Cannes this year and our tonal elements—what was the most important and what we wanted people to take away—there’s a formula that we created if we were to organize them. And that would be human connection and innovation—those two things together—equal transformative power. Human connection is who we are and why we exist—our raison d’être, if you will. Then innovation is how we do what it is that we do by developing new and inspiring technologies to connect the world. And then all of that equals transformative power for all of our partners—for brands, for agencies and creators.


Related Posts

Comments are closed.

Chief Marketer Videos

by Chief Marketer Staff

In our latest Marketers on Fire LinkedIn Live, Anywhere Real Estate CMO Esther-Mireya Tejeda discusses consumer targeting strategies, the evolution of the CMO role and advice for aspiring C-suite marketers.


Call for entries now open