Cannes 2008

Big Brands Are Doing More Than Winning Cannes Awards

VIEWPOINT: Jean-Marie Dru Shows How Giant Marketers Are Engaging in Ideas, Not Just Ads

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Jean-Marie Dru
Jean-Marie Dru
June is the month when the advertising industry meets on the French Riviera. I was there this year, and I celebrated Cannes, a place where creativity is celebrated unlike anywhere else. But I also celebrated something rather more unusual. I paid tribute to big companies -- particularly one of them, Procter & Gamble, which was named "Advertiser of the Year."

This was a natural sequel to an event that took place last year. In 2007, something happened, something I would never have imagined possible, something I would never have dared to hope for. Both P&G and Unilever -- the two giant consumer-goods companies -- were awarded the two major Grand Prix: print and TV.

For decades, neither of these companies had much of a reputation for winning creative awards. But here is the reality: Today, a lot of great work comes out of big clients and network agencies. A large majority of Cannes Grand Prix winners over the last years have come from big companies such as Nestle, Sony and Honda. At TBWA, 85% of our awards are generated by our big, global clients.

Historic turning point
For me, the fact that both P&G and Unilever were awarded a Grand Prix the same year is no coincidence. It marks an historic turning point for our industry. With all their advertising dollars, big companies used to simply repeat the same film over and over until the message got through. That era has passed. As we all know audiences can now watch whatever they want, whenever they want. "Safe" advertising gets ignored. It is the beginning of the end for repetitive advertising.

P&G and Unilever should be congratulated for showing the way.

Mars is another company that has understood this evolution. The campaigns it produced for its confectionery division show it knows how to talk to media-savvy, ad-shy teenagers. A good example is the Skittles commercial where everything a man touches turns into Skittles. Or the Combos campaign explaining that Combos are "what your mom would feed you if your mom was a man." Or, the "Little Lad" spot for Starburst that has generated more than 300 internet spoofs. Five years ago, nobody would have imagined that Mars could make films as edgy as these. And create so much excitement on the net.

So the question is: What led Mars to suddenly adopt this daring style of advertising? Obviously, they saw the writing on the wall. There is no getting away from the fact that, today, creativity is no longer optional. It is vital to every category, without exception. More than ever, big ideas matter.
Jean-Marie Dru is the chairman of TBWA Worldwide, an Omnicom network.

Every year, Creativity Magazine produces a ranking of the most creative advertisers. For more than a decade, none of the big food groups appeared on the list. In 2006, Mars entered for the first time in eighth place. In 2007, there was only one more rung to climb; they came second.

It is interesting to consider the other companies making up the top 10 on this list.

Practically all of them are big companies. You might protest that they have more brands, and therefore more entries. But that does not change the fact that, 10 years ago, you would never have found Mars, Unilever or P&G in any of the top slots they now occupy.

Asking for more integration
This is good news for the advertising industry because all these big companies -- starting with P&G -- are asking a lot more of their agencies. They are asking for much more creativity, and for deep and thorough integration. They expect our ideas to work effectively across a broad spectrum of communication channels: TV, internet, PR, CRM, special events, retail activation, and so on. As we all know, repetition or frequency per channel is no longer enough to ensure effectiveness. What is needed is a strong central idea to connect all these different expressions. An idea that serves as a blueprint for the communication plan. An idea that gives a direction to everyone.

Lee Clow puts it this way: "Big ideas win, good ads don't."

What he means is that if you want the idea to serve as the backbone of successive campaigns over time, then you have to take it a step further. You need more than an advertising idea: you need a brand idea.

It is also ironic that the bigger he brands are, the less money they need to spend on internet advertising. The reputation of Nike attracts so much traffic to certain of its sites, such as Nike ID or Nike Air Force, that it barely needs to spend a cent online. Visits to its sites and links shared on community websites and blogs are more than enough for the brand to shine. Brands are becoming media.

And it is easier for big brands to become a destination.

Big is not only a matter of size. It also has to do with the way a brand behaves. Some companies believe more than others in the power of brands. Apple is maybe the ultimate example. Apple is a company that has grown big, while staying in touch with its small side. Steve Jobs recently described his company as "the biggest small company in the world."

Apple certainly knows how to act as a leader when required. Proof of this is the recent launch of the iFund. The iFund is a $100 million private-investment fund. The iFund money will make it possible for tens of thousands of developers to create new applications for the iPhone and the iPod. The iFund participates in this way in a real "democratization of development," bringing good ideas to market cheaper and faster.

Big brands have obligations
Big brands have not only rights, but also obligations. This is not a new thought, but, in today's open world, these obligations are bigger and loftier. No aspect of the company is exempt. In France, no less than 20% of McDonald's advertising investment goes toward promoting corporate responsibility issues: employment policy, transparency, quality control ... As a result, a recent survey conducted by a leading business magazine ranked McDonald's in the top 10 of companies where young people most want to work. And even better, they came first on two key criteria: job security and access to management.

Not bad for a fast-food company in the country of gastronomy. Not bad for a company that is the symbol of capitalism in a country that is still uneasy with this concept.

P&G has always showed the way. It wants to set an example of the way brands should behave. It has decided to become a leader in cause-related marketing. Recently, Advertising Age chronicled a sustainability effort by Pampers. Each time a Pampers product is sold in the world, an anti-tetanus vaccine is distributed in Africa.

There will always be those narrow-minded people to denounce this as commercialization of charity. They see us as cynical, I see them as profoundly selfish. Something great is happening to the world. Mothers prefer to donate a vaccine than to get a free coupon. This is a watershed. The goal of "doing well by doing good" has been adopted by all. And I believe that the whole world is going to benefit from it.

Charity is a mass-market issue
All of a sudden, charity is a mass-market issue. It is no longer constrained by the tight budgets of corporate PR. From now on, it has access to the immense means of mass communication. There are also great programs being run by Pantene, Always, Reliance. Olay has just won a Gold Halo award for their skin cancer initiative. And PuR has a program that plans to purify 2 billion liters of water in Africa and save 10,000 lives by 2012.

What's true for mothers is equally true for their kids. They are also exposed to war and devastation in the media. And they would rather support a brand that says it wants to change the world -- or at least help to protect the planet.

And here is the point: Only a big company can efficiently run programs like these. Obviously, the bigger the brand, the more life-saving injections are given. Once again, it is the beauty of big.

You will notice that big companies often have CEOs who are big leaders. TBWA is very lucky to work for a number of them. I am thinking not only of A.G. Lafley of P&G, but also of Apple's Mr. Jobs, Mars' Paul Michaels and Nissan's Carlos Ghosn.

Each of them thinks big. Each of them thinks "share of the future" rather than "share of the market."

Mr. Michaels has taken a family-owned business to the next level by making it No. 1 in the world, harmoniously balancing internal and external growth. Mr. Jobs has reinvented four business categories: computing, music, telephony -- even animated films. He has revolutionized everything he has touched. Mr. Lafley has brought innovation back to the package goods sector. His book "The Game Changer" proves it on every page. And Mr. Ghosn has created the business structure of the future with the Alliance Renault-Nissan, where neither company dominates the other -- the gauge of a sustainable partnership. The Alliance is now the third-largest automotive group in the world.

None of these leaders take size for granted. They consider it an asset -- but also a duty toward their clients and stakeholders. They have made "big" a positive word.

Finally, what may appear an obvious thought: Even if you work for a small company today, there is no reason why it has to stay that way. In the end, even Volkswagen was forced to admit that being big might be better. They produced a film in the late 1960s by which time the Beetle had become an immense success; there were millions of them on the American roads. The film lasted only ten seconds, it may be the shortest corporate commercial ever produced. The visual was a shot of two rabbits, staring at the camera, immobile. And the voice-over simply and concisely stated: "In 1948, there were only two Volkswagens in America."

This film serves as a brilliant illustration of the effectiveness of advertising. Advertising which has allowed Volkswagen to breed cars like rabbits over the years.

And, as a brilliant illustration that big can truly be beautiful.
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