The precise recipe for a perfect carbonara is a matter of fierce debate, but the success of Barilla’s cinematic tribute to this Italian classic is indisputable.
A 10-minute ad set during World War II, “CareBonara — The Origins of Carbonara” explores the potential culinary origins of one of the most loved pasta dishes in the world.
On the back of the campaign’s 17.5 million YouTube views in four countries,1 with a global reach of 73 million,2 we spoke to Alessio Gianni, global VP for content and brand PR at Barilla Group, for insights on the genesis of this ambitious ad.
Small crises can generate great opportunities
‘The insight for the campaign originally came from a small reputation crisis we had back in 2006. A French blog published a video of a carbonara made with raw egg yolk, creme fraiche, and Barilla farfalle pasta. For any readers not up to speed on authentic Italian cooking, a real carbonara only uses spaghetti or rigatoni and a strict set of ingredients.
‘The social media debate that followed gave us the inspiration for a “Carbonara Day” — an annual event that was an opportunity to celebrate this much-discussed and loved recipe.
‘This year, we wanted to tell a story with an ambitious cinematic language, inspired by the pasta dish. The original goal was to shoot a three-minute video for digital. Instead, it became colossal.’
Take out for marketers: Weigh up the risks and opportunities of responding to any negative debate around your brand. In the right instances, it can be a chance to engage meaningfully with consumers, show you’re listening, and shape the narrative in the long term.
Rules are made to be broken (with video, not pasta)
‘The production was on a grand scale: three days in Rome, in two different locations, with 100 extras.
‘When we saw the whole video, it was clear the project had taken a different turn and we couldn’t cut without damaging the end result. Many people told us we were crazy, but we believed in our creative and put the story first.
‘It was a big call, but one justified by the results. We used the Search Lift tool to measure the ad’s impact on the perception of Barilla Group brands. Of those who were exposed to the campaign, use of the keyword “Barilla” on YouTube and Search was up to 47 times higher than for those who hadn’t seen the ad.’3
Take out for marketers: Successful brands on YouTube use creative strategies that break rules and bust assumptions. Effective video ads can be many different things, from a CEO interview to a mini docu-series.
The medium is as important as the message
‘Most companies design a TV ad, then use it for digital too. TV commercials used on digital platforms rarely become hero content that people actively seek out. We wanted to create an event online that was capable of generating enormous audience growth: a video that would be shared on social media and deliver positive headlines in the press.
‘The film was built with YouTube in mind from the start. It was the only platform capable of hosting this type of longer-form content with the potential to engage such a large and qualitative audience. And because PR was an integral part of the strategy, YouTube was a perfect landing page for press and consumers to find out more.”
Take out for marketers: Instead of making campaign assets and then designing a media plan around them, think channel first. Successful brands plan and shape creative specifically for the strengths and flexibility of YouTube.
Go beyond vanity metrics to measure content success
“To date, the campaign is one of Barilla’s most successful. It ran on YouTube over a one-week period in April 2021 in Italy, the U.K., Australia, and France — promoted to audiences with an interest in food and lovers of Italian cuisine. We used the TrueView in-stream format, where viewers can skip after five seconds, but we kept them engaged with total views over the 17 million mark
We wanted to create an event online that was capable of generating enormous audience growth
‘While viewer numbers are undoubtedly a metric to keep an eye on, what really matters is retention — and we observed very high values that were comparable to other, shorter, Barilla campaigns. From this perspective, the project has exceeded all expectations.
‘The view rate of the TrueView video was 62% — and 13% of the users watched the video until the end. What surprised us the most was seeing the retention graph for the 10-minute video, which was similar to that of a one-minute ad.’
Take out for marketers: Ensure your YouTube campaign KPIs are aligned with your wider business goals. With retention key for many brands, apply creative best practice from Google’s Unskippable Labs to help keep viewers watching.