Costs and Egos Aside, There's Business Value in Cannes

Cannes 'Advertiser of the Year' Says Lions Provoke and Inspire Our Industry to Achieve Results

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This month, more than 10,000 lucky people will head to the French Riviera to be part of the annual creative-industry awards festival called Cannes Lions.

I say lucky because nobody can complain about the fact that their work takes them to Cannes every June. I travel all over the world, and I can safely say that Cannes is one of the most glamorous and beautiful places one can do business.

That said, the exotic location, the associated costs and the creative theme of the event result in a lot of bricks being thrown at Cannes Lions from a lot of quarters.

Of course, it's not just Cannes. Advertising-award shows in general catch heat for various reasons, notably the notion that they serve the egos of creatives more than they serve the purpose of moving product, of selling soap or soda. And recent controversies over "fake ads" entered into competition for the sole purpose of winning awards have not helped challenge that perception.

Cannes, as the premier ad-industry show, is the biggest target, one that raises some specific questions. Do those Lions really matter? Do Lions-winning campaigns actually drive business? Is spending money to hang out in France a waste of time for all involved?

I have long believed in the value of awards. And not just for the advertising industry. Any field -- music, science, film, literature, fashion, technology, medicine, automotive -- that takes the time to pull together the brightest talent in order to recognize the best thinking and output will set benchmarks of excellence. Such benchmarks help inspire, provoke and shape our world for the better.

Too big a claim? I think not. Just think about how the Grammy's recognition of Frank Ocean's debut album, "Channel Orange," had a positive influence in the debate about homophobia's place in hip-hop. Or, closer to home, how Chipotle's fabulous award-winning "Back to the Start" marketing platform heightened consciousness of sustainability and agricultural practices. Both of these examples are small bricks that help make up the pathway we call human progress.

So award shows can matter. But why does Cannes, specifically, matter to marketers?

Firstly, no other festival has the global reach of Cannes. To truly be the best at global marketing, you have to seek out the greatest examples from around the world. We are as interested in learning from the best work in Korea and Chile as we are from the best work from the U.S. and the U.K. Cannes provides an unrivaled global perspective.

Secondly, Cannes attracts some of the world's biggest thinkers. World leaders, tech titans, ad gurus and Oscar-winning actors all attend Cannes. Each provides inspiration and insight that serves to make us better creatives, better marketers and, in many cases, better human beings.

Thirdly, Cannes has the broadest creative spectrum of any awards show. This helps educate us on new and emerging sectors across the creative and technology industries.

As a result, Cannes attracts the most diverse spread of creatively driven professionals in the world. Not just for today's world but for tomorrow's world.

Finally, I am a huge believer in the correlation between a company's commercial success and its creative success. Coca-Cola Co. believes that doing good work that promotes more goodness in the world is good business. And year after year Cannes helps prove this.

When I was being interviewed for my position at Coke I was asked: "If you were to join us, what do you think your legacy would be?"

Without hesitation I replied, "I will not be satisfied until we become Advertiser of the Year at Cannes."

I nearly lost my audience as my words hung in the air. But I continued. "Because if you study the last 10 years of Advertiser of the Year, you will notice that eight out of 10 of them enjoyed an all-time high share price -- or value equivalent -- at the time they were recognized." That caught the attention of the interview panel, a creative guy who can tie creativity back to the bottom line. That's what Coke wanted and that's exactly what the creative teams all over the world have helped prove.

Creativity drives business results, and Cannes shines a big glorious light on this each and every year. And I simply love the fact that it does. See you on the Croisette.

Jonathan Mildenhall is VP-global advertising strategy and content excellence, Coca-Cola Co.
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