Ad agencies score at Cannes because they make the effort

by Vicky Bullen

The Cannes Lions festival has become a fixed if not entirely unwelcome feature of the marketing calendar. It is hard work, and because there are so many clients and bosses there, you really do have to have your wits constantly about you –even in your cups at two o clock in the morning. Not that I’m ever up that late obviously.

The festival has undergone significant mission creep in recent years. It started off as purely advertising awards. Then under the ownership of Emap which bought it 2004, it gradually added dm, digital, PR, activation, content and design, not to mention recruiting the global client community.

But looking at the results this year, the question being asked by many is whether Cannes has ever really got over its first love -advertising.

Take our sector, design. 23 gold Lions were awarded. Of those no fewer, than 18 went to advertising agencies. There’s a similar story in the PR sector. 20 golds were awarded. 16 went to advertising agencies.

There are several possible explanations for this. Maybe there is some kind of institutional bias going on within Cannes juries. That is possible. But the juries tend to be dominated by people from the relevant craft disciplines, so it is unlikely.

Maybe ad agencies are just better and Cannes juries, crammed full of people who really know their stuff, simply recognize that creative superiority.

It’s far more likely however that they aren’t better, just better at entering awards –awardology if you like. It’s certainly true that ad agencies tend to be more experienced and more skilled at producing the ‘films of the campaign’ which are almost compulsory for entries these days.

And as larger businesses, they cannot only afford to fund those films, which can cost thousands of pounds. They can also afford the cost of entry in the first place and that starts at around two thousand pounds, reaching five thousand pounds, depending on the category and number of entries.

Big winners tend to win big partly because they are great work, usually of the quirky visual gag variety, but also because they are entered into multiple categories. The brilliantly quirky and sweet Dumb Ways To Die film for Metro Trains by McCann Melbourne was entered into The Film section, Branded Content, Cyber Lions, Film Craft and Titanium &Integrated.

So ad agencies know exactly how to play the award game. In contrast we in the design industry tend to have a very narrow definition of design. The work tends to be serious rather than quirky. We look at it as primarily about brand identity and we tend to be very cautious about how we enter. But in the world of Cannes design is a much more multi-faceted notion covering covers aspects of product design, lay out, animation and film craft to name but a few.

The truth is that ad agencies do better at awards like Cannes largely because they are more savvy and more experienced at entering.

So to those in other sectors like design, PR, promotions who might be feeling hard done by, I have to say, make the same effort as ad agencies, be as clever as them, and who knows, you might win something. Or to put it more bluntly: man up and stop whining. ENDS


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