The biggest threat to creative ads? Cannes

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You have to think, or maybe fear, that if John Wanamaker could be resurrected at Cannes the third week of June he'd suddenly find clarity on which half of his ad budget was wasted.

The 19th-century haberdasher who uttered that famous "I know half of my advertising budget is wasted..." quote would see the cream of global creativity drowning their brain cells in booze before heading back to $500-a-night hotel rooms. Thanks to the client influx, he'd also see new heights of relationship-building as agencies return some of their bounty to clients.

It drives home like no ROI analysis how much extra cash moves through this industry. And how out of touch advertising creatives can be with the folks who ultimately pay the bills.

A shockingly refreshing exception is Yasmin Ahmad, executive creative director of Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett Co., Malaysia. Last year, she told a room of Procter & Gamble Co. executives how she once walked out of a meeting about a campaign to make shampoo sachets appear to be of better value by putting less shampoo in them. This was during a 1998 Asian currency crisis that literally had people jumping out windows nearby. Then, she noted how far the festival's revenue could go in ending world hunger.

It was a rare sobering moment at Cannes. Another followed minutes later when P&G's agency executives saw the film shortlist.

Here's a third. While Mr. Wanamaker wasn't at Cannes this year, Kim Kraus was. She's P&G's strategic-relationship-optimization (i.e. purchasing) manager for marketing services.

The scary thought of what she might find to optimize there shows why having client contingents at Cannes is a bad idea. Turning Cannes into the Mecca of advertising gives award-winning work a bad name.

Unlike Cannes, award-winning advertising is not a waste of money. Indeed, highly retentive market researchers are converging lately around hard proof that making emotional connections is by far the most important thing ads do. And award-winning ads do it better than traditional complex, benefit-laden P&G ads. Ultimately, getting research on these points into the hands and minds of P&G decision-makers-most often the general managers-is the only thing that might change the culture.

BOONDOGGLE

But it's hard to believe lavish parties, punctuated by viewing of creative advertising (brief to the point of nonexistent for some senior executives) will build respect for creative advertising or advertising creatives. Privately, some P&G executives refer to Cannes simply as a boondoggle. One former P&G marketing-services executive asked before last year's trip: "Why don't they just stay home and make better ads?"

Easier said than done. But Unilever has. After a couple years of sending contingents to Cannes to look cool to creatives, Unilever tried being cool just by letting them make good ads.

Given Unilever's aggregate market performance vs. P&G, it's easy to write off its better award performance. But brands where Unilever is getting creative awards, like Axe and more recently Dove, are among its strongest, and ones where it tends to beat P&G more often than not.

Just staying home and making better ads isn't a bad idea.

Walk the walk

One former P&G executive asked before last year’s trip: "Why don’t they just stay home and make better ads?"

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