“Breaking Down the 4th Wall: A Shift from Content Creation to Cultural Creation”


Seth Hillstrom:

How do industry leaders like ZX Ventures (Anheuser-Busch InBev) think about brand experience? Join our chat with Christopher Lehault below to find out!
How can we go beyond storytelling to make a lasting impact and win long-run share of heart? And when is it okay to break the 4th wall as a marketer?
As we all seek that perfect balance of adding meaning/value and finding reasons to be welcomed into our consumers’ lives, it’s increasingly difficult to accomplish our goals with an endless stream of one-way communications.
Christopher, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about this! We’re very excited to pick your brain…

Hi Seth! Thanks for having me!


Christopher, as the Global Director of Brand Experience at ZX Ventures, your job is to go well beyond telling the brand’s story and find a way to create extensions and experiences that will garner lasting share of heart (an increasingly critical role for Beverage/CPG marketers.) Why do you think is this is such an important role in today’s advertising climate?


To answer that I think you first have to look at the current advertising climate. Consumers today are being impacted with exponentially increasing message volumes in an increasingly multi-tasked environment. So the ability to cut through, drive recall and impact preference is getting harder and harder. This shouldn’t be new to anyone.

The typical response is to increase frequency and make the media “work harder” through earned impressions and micro-targets. But this is still a traditional approach of being an outsider in a consumers life and shouting at them to change their mind. Kind of like shooting missiles at an asteroid… it makes a lot of noise but not a lot of impact.

But if you start with a real consumer problem – taking the time to understand their needs and their challenges – you can find ways for your brand to have a meaningful impact as part of their lives. Then, you are driving value from the inside out. Creating stronger bonds and touchpoints that translate back to your core product.


A lot of what goes into creating meaningful extensions and lasting experiences presents an opportunity to break down the 4th wall as a marketer; something I know you’re passionate about. While marketers have long shied away from this, we’re seeing this become increasingly popular of last. What opportunities do you create in breaking down the 4th wall? And what pitfalls should marketers avoid in doing it?


Typical experiential marketing goes something like this: (1) create an amazing experience.(2) host a few hundred brand fans and document the whole thing. (3) disseminate it at mass through traditional channels.

But this is still just storytelling and comms. If 1,000,000 more people experience the content on Instagram instead of the event itself, is it an experience? Or is it just another videos shoot? This idea of 4th Wall Marketing – where brands bring their stories into the consumers daily lives – is where we’re creating tangible value at scale while reinforcing brand equity.

The challenge for marketers is that they really need to walk the walk and talk the talk. The meals have to be delicious and not just instagramable. The events have to be amazing… not just the boomerang video.

And the kicker is that all of this needs to be executed at 1000x scale with the same budget. And you can’t fix it in post.


An important aspect of your mission is the ability to create a lasting, sustainable impact on consumers. Can you tell us what you’re thinking about when you set out to do this? How do you identify what is meaningful, what will stay with someone? I suspect the answer is different for different brands and different groups of consumers?


The process is actually quite universal (I see a Medium article in the future…). But the results of this process can be widely different.

We always start with both a consumer problem AND a business problem. To add real value, you need to be obsessed with your consumers and in constant state of problem-finding. Then, we build a bridge between the problems. If we can’t connect the dots then we invalidate and stop because the output will either have low consumer adoption or a lack of focus within the company.

Once we identify a connection, we analyze it for scalability to ensure it has enough legs to provide a return on the effort. We test (and test and test and test) and validate. Our team is obsessed with lean analytics, design thinking, prototyping and validating. We’re getting really good at going from 0 to 1 but it’s a very different skillset for traditional marketers in big CPGs.

And, finally, we commit. We execute it like a business… not like another activation or campaign. This mindset is what gives us ownership and commitment for the long term.


In preparing for this interview, you shared with me that this type of work really lends itself to the idea of moving from content creation to cultural creation – which I think brilliantly illustrates what you’re trying to do. Can you unpack that statement a little for us?


We’re at a pivotal point in marketing where we have evolved from content sponsorship to content creation. But with what real impact? What’s the last brand activation you remember or the branded YouTube series that you watched a second time? It all feels like digital ephemera.

We need to evolve from content creation to cultural creation and produce brand extensions and media that provide lasting value those categories … content with its own point of view.

With my team, we do this by starting as skeptics. We have to convince ourselves before we try and convince others. The first question I ask the team when we are going into a new category – apparel, food, accessories, etc. – is “What are we going to add to [category x] that has never been done before?”

If we can’t answer that, then we won’t have a unique selling position and we’ll just be adding noise and clutter to the world. If we can find a unique POV, a reason for the brand to exist there, then we explore further because we can make a real impact and have a position.


Finally, it’d be interesting to hear what brands you’re working on…and about some of the most successful extensions and experiences you’ve deployed (and how effective they’ve been at creating the lasting impact we’re talking about)?


Seth, I wish we were doing this interview 1 year from now (set a reminder!) because so many of these experiences are on a long lead time and we have some amazing extension coming to market in the next 6 months to a year. As for focus, we work across just about every brand in the portfolio, globally, provided there is a consumer need to be met.

But one of my favorites here in the USA that I can mention today is the Budweiser Brewmaster’s Premium Sauces and Marinades program. Budweiser has a long history with BBQ and burgers. There was even another sauce in market for a few years. But this winter we committed to putting the brand stamp on a completely new set of products developed with our brewmasters and chef’s in St Louis. The sauces have been a “channel” for the brand to engage food bloggers, activate at our events all summer and have a real POV in the category. The response has been amazing. But for me the value is that there is another longstanding touchpoint with consumers. We’re able to add the brand value and equity to a new occasion and another moment. For me, this is 100x better than having another koozie (not that there is anything wrong with koozies!) You can check out some of the impact at #kingofsauceshttps://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/kingofsauces/


Wow, that is awesome! What a brilliantly designed and cohesive approach.  And absolutely, we’re saving the date to check back in with you in a year and see how things continue to play out!  Thanks so much for joining us today, and we’re so excited to have you sharing more of your perspective at eBev this fall!  For anyone who’d like to join us, we’ll be in Las Vegas October 24-26.


Thanks for having me, Seth. Can’t wait to talk more soon.


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