Social media gives new hope for Cannes Lions victory

Want to win a Lion? Then try putting social media, rather than TV, at the heart of an ad campaign, James Nester says.

  • "The gnome experiment" created for Kern by OgilvyOne

  • The success of

    The success of "the gnome experiment" led to a TED Talk about the campaign

  • Clouds Over Cuba (John F Kennedy Presidential Library)

    Clouds Over Cuba (John F Kennedy Presidential Library)

  • "The beauty inside" (Intel and Toshiba)

  • "Telekinize the rainbow" (Skittles)


Social media recently overtook pornography as the number-one activity on the web. (Stop press, get this on to the front page!) Armed with this and other insights, We Are Social approached Cannes Lions to put the case forward for a new Social Lion. And although a dedicated Social Lion hasn’t yet materialised, 15 new social-specific categories within Cyber Lions 2014 have.

It’s a great step forward because social thinking will define the ideas of the future. By "social thinking", I don’t mean Facebook and Twitter tactics. I mean ideas based on an understanding of social behaviour. Big ideas that people want to share, talk about, get involved with and belong to.

Let me throw more stats at you. Brace yourselves for this one… social media is more popular than TV. What?! You think I’m biased, but I have numbers: social media now absorbs 26 per cent of people’s media time compared with TV’s 23 per cent, according to GlobalWebIndex.

And the trend is only going one way. In the past two weeks alone, two million more people have become active users of social platforms.

So, if all this is the case, why are we still heroing the big-budget TV ad in the UK? Why does TV make up such a disproportionate chunk of most campaign budgets? And why are most TV ads still talking at, not with, people?

Maybe it’s because we’re a mature market. Whole marketing departments, agencies and processes have been set up around producing the TV extravaganza, airing it with Coronation Street, then, if there’s any budget left, asking a digital agency to "do something social that fits with it".

That’s not always an easy or especially productive task and is perhaps why our nation isn’t winning many Lions any more. There’s also an assumption that big, expensive business problems require big, expensive ad solutions (see Rory Sutherland’s excellent talks for more on this).

The model usually goes like this: come up with a big "broadcast" idea, then socialise it. But what if social came first? Come up with a big "social" idea, then broadcast it.

Look at the world’s ten most award-winning campaigns of 2013, according to the Big Won report. You could argue every one of them is closer to the second model, not the first: 1. "Dumb ways to die" (Metro); 2. "The beauty inside" (Intel and Toshiba); 3. Clouds Over Cuba (John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum); 4. "Real beauty sketches" (Dove); 5. "Driving dogs" (Mini and SPCA); 6. "Love in the end" (Lacta); 7. "Telekinize the rainbow" (Skittles); 8. "Our food, your questions" (McDonald’s); 9. Nike+ FuelBand; 10. "The V Motion Project" (Frucor).

"The beauty inside", in particular, is a shining example of the social-first model. A profound, episodic brand film that beautifully taps a human truth, acted out by real fans. The idea would have made for a spine-tingling TV campaign. It didn’t need one, receiving 70 million views without traditional media costs.

More and more clients are beginning to cotton on to the explosion in social. Apparently, 46 per cent are planning to increase social budgets in 2014 at the expense of traditional channels. Some forward-thinking clients are even placing social as the starting point of the idea rather than a bolt-on.

For instance, Evian’s "#Live­YoungJanuary" campaign, which you’ll hopefully have seen in Metro every day last month. It’s one of the UK’s biggest print campaigns of the year so far, yet it’s first and foremost a social campaign, using traditional media to drive buzz.

Let me finish with what made me a social convert: "the gnome experiment", an idea created for Kern by OgilvyOne staff who are now at We Are Social.

Reach after one month was more than 350 million – triple that of the Super Bowl. "The gnome experiment" is now part of the teaching curriculum in several countries. All this cost less than £30,000.

The gnome performed in awards too – it was the world’s most-awarded direct idea of 2012 (the Big Won report) and the world’s most-awarded PR campaign of 2013. Why did it do so well? Because it was something people wanted to talk about. It didn’t rely on Twitter, Facebook… or any channel, actually. It was a conversation piece that tapped into genuine interests of real communities: scientists, teachers, students and gnome-lovers everywhere. A social idea.

So, if you’re gunning for a Lion, the new Social categories represent a huge and untapped creative territory to mine. They also give the UK a big chance to reclaim our credibility – but we might need to change the order we look at advertising first.

James Nester is a creative director at We Are Social