Even At Cannes, Creativity Is No Longer Enough

Where's the ROI? Effective Campaigns Must Fuse Data with Creativity

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This week, thousands of advertising professionals will descend on the South of France for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, during which they can enjoy sunshine, awards ceremonies and some of the world's most breathtaking beaches.

But for all of the brilliant, award-winning creative campaigns on display -- and all of the corks that will be popped in celebration of them -- one very important thing might get lost in the shuffle this week: return on investment. Indeed, of the 20 award categories up for grabs at this year's festival, just seven will take into account whether the winning entries did anything to improve business outcomes. In fact, rather than baking business results into the criteria for every award that will be handed out at Cannes, there is actually a separate category for "creative effectiveness."

This focus on creativity for creativity's sake is misguided. At a time when marketers are able to track the effectiveness of their advertising spend down to the last cent, it is simply not enough for agencies to run a compelling creative campaign unless it also produces measurable results in the form of increased brand awareness and sales.

This is especially true in our current time of extraordinary media fragmentation. Even if a brand makes an awesome piece of video content, it's impossible for it to reach the entire audience these days simply by running a 30-second TV ad. Rather, agencies need to be capable of helping their clients distribute ads across all of the various places people are consuming content -- regardless of whether that means creating a campaign targeted specifically for mobile users or promoting a brand's latest TV commercial on Facebook.

And that's where data comes into the equation. By collecting and analyzing consumer information, agencies and brands can make the most of their creativity by identifying their most valuable customers and showing them the ads that are most likely to appeal to them. Agencies can go the extra mile by using analytics to alter their creative approach mid-campaign, based on what is and isn't working. Undoubtedly, this fusion of data and creativity is the future of advertising -- even if it is not yet the industry's primary focus at Cannes this week.

Taking nothing away from the beautiful and artistic campaigns on show at the Palais, the industry's primary awards show at times appears obsessed with individual trees of creativity when clients are busy looking at the forest of how their advertising improves overall business results.

Take, for instance, Nivea's Cannes Lion-winning magazine ad a year ago. In a frankly ingenious combination of technology and creativity, the skin-care brand created a nifty removable bracelet people could use to keep track their children at the beach, turning a magazine ad into a piece of technology and putting emphasis on the protective qualities of Nivea's suntan lotion products. But for all of the ad's creativity, it's unclear from the Cannes Lions case study whether it actually improved Nivea's business outcomes. In a data-based campaign, we would be able to know whether the creative reached the brand's target consumers and whether those people were more likely to purchase a product than those who hadn't seen it. Without this information, there is just no way of knowing whether a campaign is producing the caliber of results that are truly worth celebrating.

Fortunately, we are already starting to see the industry recognize the importance of measurable business results and data-based creativity -- even at Cannes. This year's festival features a heavy presence of technology companies looking to help agencies use data science to take their work to the next level, and it even features panels with names like, "Scientists vs. Poets: The Art of Connecting Data To Storytelling."

Of course, it's important to remember that science and poetry are not mutually exclusive. By combining outside-the-box creativity with quantitative, data-based analysis, agencies will be able to deliver the return on investment their clients are asking for without sacrificing their desire to break new ground creatively. Indeed, whether we win an award for it or not, it's this kind of unique, results-generating advertising that all of us in the advertising industry ought to be striving for.

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