Why creative awards still matter

As the 2016 Cannes Lions gets under way, Sonoo Singh looks at whether creative awards matter to brand marketers, and if they do, whether they should - and why.

We all love a good party, and the daddy of  them all for our industry is about to get started. The best agencies recognise Cannes for what it offers – fame, glory, a recruiting ground and a week-long shindig. 

And the clients? They’ve been flocking to Cannes since 2003, when, famously, Procter & Gamble demonstrated how seriously it took the festival by having the biggest client contingent there. 

But just how important to advertisers are the creative awards in reality? Should they even matter to them? In this era of data and technology, one might expect marketers to talk about creative awards through gritted teeth. After all, much of their time is now spent trying to justify the value of marketing at boardroom level. 

In light of this, Campaign spoke to some senior marketers ahead of the festival, and received some surprising responses. 

Who doesn’t love awards?

The rational debate is not over creativity versus effectiveness, but about connecting the dots between creative prowess and advertising effectiveness.

Over the past decade, the world’s largest advertiser, P&G, has been a recurring presence at Cannes Lions, going some way to elevating the status of creative awards in the client community. In addition, RB, once seen as a notoriously "cost-obsessed" advertising behemoth, has now been frequenting the Festival for more than four years. 

"Clients are increasingly recognising creative awards and great work for the talent it attracts," Philip Purdon, director of global creative excellence at RB, says. "It means we can draw in the best people; the best agencies to work on our brands." 

Last year, RB-owned dishwasher brand Finish won a silver Lion in the Film category.

"We recognise that consumers have changed, and the media environment is always changing, so the type of advertising needed also deserves a change," Purdon says. "With more data and more media channels, it is important to have a glue to keep the communications strategy together – that glue is fundamentally a great idea, which goes through a creative process to deliver an effective business result. And who doesn’t love great work that wins creative awards?" 

Logic and magic

Someone who is no stranger to winning creative awards is Andrew Warner, vice-president of marketing at employment website Monster, and a former marketing chief at Expedia. He says creativity provides that "little bit of magic" in a world surrounded by data sets and technology. Under his watch, Expedia  picked up 19 Lions.

However, Warner also understands the nervousness that exists in the minds of marketers, who are trying to look good in front of their bosses. "They would rather win effectiveness and not creative awards, which [can be] seen to carry an element of risk," he says. "But if an idea is not brave or does not grab attention, how can it be effective?"

TalkTalk managing director for mobile Jeff Dodds, a former Virgin Media and Honda marketer, adds that creativity is not exclusively about "how things look, but how they are delivered". He says: "For work to really cut through and drive a step change in performance, it has to be highly disruptive. And one of the primary ways of achieving disruption is through creativity."

Creative awards are a benchmark against which not only great work, but also effectiveness, can easily be measured. 

The creative currency

Groundbreaking research, which appeared in the IPA publication The Long and the Short of It, by
marketing consultant Peter Field and Les Binet,  head of effectiveness at Adam & Eve/DDB, has shown campaigns that win awards for creativity are, on average, ten times more effective. 

The findings are quoted unanimously by those marketers who endorse creative awards, in support of their view of them as an important tool that provides them with an additional currency. 

Big names, such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Mars, Honda, Diageo, Unilever, Nike, Heineken – all regulars on the creative awards circuit – will be well versed in the science behind the findings. But is this insight missing in certain other sectors? 

At a recent address to a group of marketers, Phil Thomas, chief executive of Cannes Lions, unveiled his latest findings on the correlation between commercial and creative success, and why creativity (ergo creative awards) drives business. He singled out finance as one of the sectors that fails to enter (let alone win) many creative awards.  

So, do finance brands know how to get maximum value from creativity? 

Jan Gooding, group brand director at insurance and investments brand Aviva, believes it is an unfair question. 

"No sector should be beyond the reach of creativ-ity that Cannes would applaud – even finance," she says. "But the combination of an unstable proposition from a service experience and health warnings around financial products makes us less adventurous. Does that mean we are not ambitious for creative awards or don’t know how to leverage creativity? Of course not. I would be so proud if Aviva did something bold enough to be recognised." 

Pride and pleasure

Dodds adds that the most underestimated element when winning a creative award is the "pride in association" that highly creative and innovative work engenders.

Not surprisingly, Heineken, winner of the Creative Marketer of the Year at the 2015 Cannes Lions, is among those brands that understand this. 

"Creative awards help drive innovation in communication, explore new ways to touch the consumer and best-practice sharing," Cindy Tervoort, Heineken’s UK marketing director, says. "It is also great for our people. Being recognised externally for great work means that the marketers we employ can be even more proud of the work they produce and know they are world class."

There is also another, more personal, reason that creative awards matter. Warner says: "When you win creative awards, you can brag about it to friends and family. And if you do win at Cannes, will definitely make your mum very proud."