Will Cannes winners prove their worth?
A view from Maisie McCabe

Will Cannes winners prove their worth?

Picking up cheap PR points, rather than affecting the bottom line, risks becoming the new gold standard in an era of budget cuts.

Cannes is in the air. You can smell the rosé in the smattering of ads with purpose shoehorned into a brand. Now I’m not the first person to talk about this. Droga5’s Dylan Williams and David Kolbusz did it with much aplomb ahead of the Croisette celebrations just last year. But I do wonder whether the tropical disturbance of scepticism is going to grow into a hurricane of action any time soon.

Publicis London’s ad for Heineken bringing together people with differing viewpoints has divided opinion. Well, outside the Campaign office, that is. In Twickenham-upon-Berners, it has gone down like a stale cupcake. My colleagues’ main issue is that the film gives transphobia, climate change denial and sexism an equal footing with the opposite, more widely held – and reasonable – positions. And, lo and behold, the ad was second in the Cannes contenders email sent recently by Publicis Worldwide.

In Peter Field’s Selling Creativity Short – which was launched in Cannes last year, as it happens – the legendary strategist found that the budgets behind creatively awarded work had been slashed. In fact, the creatively awarded brands did not even spend proportionally to their market share. Field deduced that marketers were attempting to use creativity as a substitute for budget. It hasn’t worked. Instead, their investment in creativity was wasted and awarded campaigns underperformed their unawarded rivals’.

But I wonder whether the trend of smaller budgets sitting behind creatively awarded campaigns could be affected by the fact that much of the work winning isn’t designed in anticipation of big budgets. But things might change. Last month, Unilever announced it would stop making so many ads. Could this mark the end of online-only Dove films being PR’d in the week before Cannes? Is it a coincidence that, in the past month, the world’s last male northern white rhino joined Tinder, Dove launched a range of different-shaped bottles and Colgate started writing messages about water on hotel mirrors? Another way of looking at it is that creative awards juries are actually giving work credit for their lack of budget. If you consider Grey’s LifePaint case study, its focus is on the gigantic value of the PR it generated rather than the craft of the product. It’s hardly alone.

These ideas came to the fore last week when I was thinking about Morrisons and Sainsbury’s financial results. I wrote after Christmas about Morrisons’ growing strength and it seems this resurgence has continued despite its award-defying ads. Sainsbury’s, which launched Wieden & Kennedy’s stylish ad campaign in January, is faring less well – although Argos looks a good purchase. But both sets of results were notable for the lack of detailed commentary on the role of their brand and advertising. 

Where are the recent business success stories that have been driven by marketing? Reunited with Ogilvy, British Airways plans to return to brand work after finding love for its brand has declined. The true measure of success should be whether they can return to the podium as well as please investors. 

Maisie McCabe is acting UK editor of Campaign. 
maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com 
@maisiemccabe