Cannes 2009

Trying Times Should Have Effect on Ad Award Shows

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

This far into the recession, everyone from marketer to media owner, agency to consumer is reconsidering values. It's time for award shows such as Cannes to do the same.

We are not of the hair-shirt brigades. We don't think entire industries should drape their collective selves in sack cloth and intone dirges to prove they're taking the tough times seriously. Award shows allow us to celebrate the industry and blow off steam. The trophies can be great morale boosters.

Creativity should be celebrated. But this is advertising, and creativity for its own sake should not be rewarded. That becomes more important at a time in which tighter budgets put companies and livelihoods at stake. In the best of times, agencies should not be wasting clients' money. Yes, experimentation and pushing boundaries are necessary in any endeavor. And we don't suggest that every single dollar be pumped into tried and supposedly true methods. But creative experimentation in the ad industry should be designed to drive a client's business, not to bring home golden idols.

That's not to say that the Cannes festival should be turned into the Effie Awards. The shows serve two different purposes. But Cannes should consider making effectiveness -- actual results -- one of the criteria considered when judging a spot or a campaign. And agencies should definitely not be rewarded for using client money to run ghost ads -- or, for that matter, real ads that run once in a limited market just to gain entrance to the award show.

Organizing an award show, of course, is as much a business as any other. And expecting organizers who have track records of creating dozens of overlapping categories (each with separate entry fees) and turning blind eyes to ghost entries to suddenly take a hard line that could cut into their own margins might be wishful thinking.

It might be time for the jurors to stand up. Jurors, after all, are given a clear mandate to evaluate the work as they see fit.

So when those jurors are laughing themselves silly or finding themselves delightfully surprised over some out-there spot, perhaps they should ask themselves a few simple questions: Did anyone outside of the ad industry see it? Did it change behavior? Did it actually move product?

If the answers to any of those questions is no, then the creativity is beside the point.

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