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November 11, 2014

Cannes Lions: Creative and Effective?

Brands are the most valuable assets many companies possess. But no one agrees on how much they are worth or why

The bronze lion in the Piazza San Marco in Venice has had a chequered history. Probably created around the end of the 4th century BC as a winged lion-griffin on a monument to the god Sandon in Tarsus Southern Turkey, it was significantly modified in medieval times. A major repair job was carried out in 1816 by Bartolomeo Ferrari after it was smashed during Napoleon's conquest and it is now regarded as a symbol of St Mark. Despite its odd history, the lion is recognized worldwide. The citizens of Venice are proud of their lion; and rightly so. It now surmounts one of two large granite columns in the Square; and when a group of cinema screen advertising contractors belonging to the Screen Advertising World Association held the first International Advertising Film Festival in Venice in 1954, they took the Lion of Venice as the inspiration for the Lion trophy.

Having subsequently moved to Cannes, the International Festival of Creativity is considered the largest gathering of advertising professionals and marketers. But, as the number of categories offering Lions suggests, there is no simple definition of creativity. It covers not only the range of media available, but also the wide spectrum of skills involved in the production of advertising. However, reading this year's winners highlighted to me a few aspects of creativity that are crucial to success.

Creativity in idea: In Australia, Virgin Mobile is a relatively small player, heavily outspent by its competitors. Their idea was to exploit the reality that they were not getting their fair share of attention, by having Doug Pitt step out of the shadows of his more famous brother Brad, and fronting their new campaign. Dove's long term campaign to show women that they are beautiful was reinvigorated by the Real Beauty Sketches campaign, where an FBI sketch artist drew women the way they pictured themselves, and then the way their friends saw them, highlighting the difference. Expedia focused not on travel destinations, like most of their competitors, but on the effects of travel, in their 'Travel Yourself Interesting' campaign.

Creativity in targeting: V/Line trains in Australia targeted parents of children who had left home. The 'Guilt Trip' was a pre-paid ticket back home that parents could send to their children. This original idea exploited the fact that parents have a desire to see more of their grown-up children; and that they could better afford the fare. Following a segmentation study, Expedia focused on those who viewed travel as an 'essential investment'.

Creativity in execution: A wonderful example of this was the Lurpak 'Weave your Magic' campaign; a set of beautiful films depicting sumptuous meal preparation involving Lurpak. The UK charity for the homeless, Depaul, recognized that people in the process of moving home held a latent empathy with homeless people. A great insight, but how to exploit this idea? Their creative solution was to found the Depaul Box Company to sell cardboard boxes to people moving home.

Creativity in media choice: While there were many examples of clever use of social media, one campaign that caught my eye was McDonald's 'Australia Day' campaign, where for a month they acknowledged their Australian nickname, and changed their name to Macca's — even above the arches of their stores. The store logo is, in a sense, an obvious point of communication, but is rarely considered as a medium in its own right. The Virgin Mobile campaign, while it included print, online and TV, recognized that they didn't have the budget to rely on paid-for media, and pushed for non-paid media. While this can be a risky strategy, for Virgin Media it worked – with 30 TV and radio interviews and public appearances for Doug Pitt.

However, while such creativity may win Lions, and be understandably celebrated by the advertising industry, is this just an irrelevant sideshow? Surely the key aim of advertising is to sell the brand?

Well, the examples quoted above were all drawn from the 'Creative Effectiveness' category, which has been running for four years now; where a previously shortlisted or awarded creative campaign has been shown to have a measurable and proven impact on a client's business, rewarding a direct correlation between creativity and business results. Previously (in 'Creative Effectiveness': Twose and Wyn Jones: Admap November 2011) we have shown that overall, Cannes winners are much more likely to be seen as different, involving and enjoyable than your average ad, a great indicator of their creativity. So it is not surprising to see that these Creative Effectiveness winners are also different, involving and enjoyable.

It is also worth noting that these campaigns generated salience for the brand (for example, Virgin Mobile enjoyed a 21% increase in unaided awareness), or helped make the brand experience more meaningfully different: whether that was V/Line's bringing children home; making Lurpak the 'champion of good food' for ood Lovers around the world; Expedia changing travel from a cost to be minimized, into a worthwhile investment; or Depaul transforming cardboard boxes into a means of helping the homeless.

Cannes is, then, right to celebrate creativity. While creative ads in themselves can be a joy to see, when properly harnessed to the brand, they are a powerful tool for the marketer. It is, perhaps, a little ironic that the prize the winners receive, the Cannes Lion, is itself not entirely original, but inspired by the San Marco Lion, itself a development from an animal built to honour the god Sandon. But the award is recognized worldwide. Winners are proud to receive one; and rightly so.

Authors: Millward Brown

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