Cannes 2012

Creative Effectiveness Cannes Lion Goes to Unilever's Axe

Win Marks Second Consecutive Victory for a U.K.-Based Agency

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Who says giant multinationals can't do effective work? The second-ever Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix awarded at the annual ad fest in the South of France went to Unilever for its Axe "Excite" campaign by BBH, London.

So far, the U.K. is dominating this category and will be the one to beat in future years. The first Creative Effectiveness Lion was also awarded to work done by a U.K. agency: Abbott Mead Victors BBDO in London won in 2011 for a campaign for PepsiCo called "Sandwich."

Unlike the other categories at Cannes, only entries that were either shortlisted or Lion winners at Cannes in 2011 are eligible to enter Creative Effectiveness, since judges have previously looked at the work and established it as first class. As such, the winning work was a campaign that 's not current, but one that ran last year.

This year there were 92 entries from 27 countries, down 50 entries compared with last year. Given it's so heavy on metrics and requires client approval to release those numbers, it's fair to say that the entries in this category will likely always be much smaller than in others, which regularly get submissions in the thousands. Prior to deliberations in Cannes, the jurors spent eight weeks with case studies in order to look at all the material in detail.

While there were outdoor and digital efforts, the centerpiece of the "Excite" campaign is a dramatic commercial in which angels -- not the cupid kind, but the voluptuous, sexy and beautiful Victoria's Secret kind-- fall upon a small town from the heavens. As they walk through the streets, everyone stops cold in their footsteps, stunned by their beauty. They walk in unison until they stop in front of a man who, of course, wears Axe, and then they one by one rip off their halos and throw them at the ground, smashing them to bits. The tagline at the end says: "Even Angels Will Fall."

The jury president was David Jones. He is the global CEO for Paris-based holding company Havas, and also the person who oversees the EuroRSCG network at Havas. This is the only jury at Cannes that includes clients, and the marketers represented on the jury were Fiat, Parle Agro, Novartis, Lenovo, Diageo and Heineken International.

The judging criteria is 50% based on results and effectiveness, 25% strategy and 25% creative idea. The biggest reason for awarding Unilever and BBH, London, was consistency between the business objective the client laid out, the strategy devised to carry it out, the creative idea and the results. Many of the submissions were inconsistent in this regard, the judges said, noting that sometimes the outcome of the campaign was totally misaligned with the business objectives. Another reason cited was the desire to want to underscore that even large-scale global campaigns can be strong. "It doesn't have to be the lowest common denominator," when it comes to big campaigns being able to do breakthrough creative that really actually works, said Mr. Jones.

It was clear. The judges said the decision to award the Grand Prix to the Axe campaign was unanimous.

Collaboration. Client-side jurors explained that it was very clear to them that , given the consistency of the messaging and success in carrying out the company's sales goals, that the marketer and its agency had worked incredibly well together. They suggested that collaboration between client and agency will always be a hallmark of a winner in this category.

Just six Lions were handed out -- one Grand Prix and five others -- and they were not given a gold, silver or bronze designation. They are merely called Creative Effectiveness Lions and they went to Chrysler, Diageo Australia, Procter & Gamble, Initiative Vermisste Kinder and Mars. The countries represented were the U.S., U.K., Australia and Germany. Last year there were also six handed out, to the USA, U.K., New Zealand and India.

An entry by Puma was one that garnered a lot of attention during the deliberations, since, in Mr. Jones' words, it was a case where the work was "powerful creative," but it just didn't go the extra distance in explaining the sales results. "The work was great, but it just didn't cut it in terms of effectiveness," he said.

A lot of the entries, frankly. The jurors didn't mince words in calling them "lazy" and saying there were "a number of missed opportunities." They were also critical of submissions that hyped up social-media figures as part of the results. Said Mr. Jones: "It's incredible how ever-impressed people get by their own social-media statistics," noting that one company's 500 likes could be another's 5 million likes. They were down on the lack of context, too, provided for some of the metrics. For example, saying that website traffic jumped 20%, but not providing a time frame of when that happened, and how it was directly linked to the advertising campaign.

Those that enter should make sure to comb through their submissions again and again to ensure there's no missing information and that results have been explained thoroughly, because this category is building a reputation for being one of the toughest. And rightly so, because what's the point of work that doesn't work?

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