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As the Cannes Lions Festival is wrapping up this week, we’re seeing the annual breathless, self-congratulatory statements coming out of agencies with photos of their awards and sun-tanned creative teams sipping champagne.
They should feel proud. They’ve achieved a huge accomplishment that has been the recognized stamp of credibility for advertising creativity since 1954.
How do agencies win at the Cannes Lions festival?
When I worked at the big ad agencies, I was often shocked at how they used clients’ budgets for the purpose of winning awards and self-promotion.
I’ve seen ad agency executives planning how to maximize their billings for minimal work and use their clients’ budgets to submit campaigns for awards.
I vividly remember, shortly before I walked away from my ad agency career, being part of a team that created a poster to promote a lightbulb.
It involved an elaborate set rental, professional photography shoot, intensive image editing, and ultimately cost the client $17,000. For a poster.
It did nothing to communicate the benefits of the lightbulb for consumers. And there was not a single conversation at the agency about how we should measure results, or even what the goal was for the poster.
Was it a failed poster campaign?
It certainly didn’t achieve the goals in the official creative brief.
But, it did win a prestigious award for that agency and the creative director.
It was certainly a clever (if not esoteric) concept with beautiful, subtle photography, but it was entirely useless as an ad.
I watched as the client contacts turned a blind eye to the waste, knowing that they would be repaid with lavish expense account dinners in exchange for handing over their company’s cash.
CMOs are turning against award-obsessed agencies
That’s why today’s CMO’s are rejecting traditional award-seeking agencies. They know those agencies don’t care about their clients. Much less their clients’ customers.
Today’s CMOs know award-seeking agencies don’t care about their clients. Much less their clients’ customers.
They know that too-clever ads often don’t achieve results. Their digital transformation is changing their priorities. Data-informed ad campaigns are now revealing how ineffective the old gut-feeling approach can be.
They are seeking alternatives, and finding them in the Zen Marketing approach that balances intuition with data, big ideas with bold experiments, inspiration with rigorous validation.
The alternative to cleverness is customer insights that are validated by robust data.
The alternative to awards for cleverness is measurable results lift.
I firmly believe that creativity is still required for advertising. And a rigorous experimentation program is enabling today’s marketing innovation.
I’m reminded again, in this Cannes Lions Festival season, of why I started WiderFunnel to be the “anti-agency.” And again, why we will never make a recommendation if we haven’t tested its ability to lift the client’s revenue.
So, the next time you’re in an agency pitch where they’re bragging about their awards, don’t walk; run away from hiring them. They’re telling you they don’t care about you.
Why we will never win a Cannes Lion award
Short answer: Because we will never submit for one.
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