Straight talk – Why Cannes is worthwhile

The creative community has been excitedly packing their sun tan oil and micro-thongs for weeks now. Yes, it's that time of year again; the Cannes Advertising Festival will soon be upon us.

The creative community has been excitedly packing their sun tan oil and micro-thongs for weeks now. Yes, it’s that time of year again; the Cannes Advertising Festival will soon be upon us.

I suppose as a voice from the client side, I should be beside myself, full of righteous indignation that the self-absorbed, back-slapping representatives of the creative community will be living it up, while the market shares they are supposed to be driving up languish in the doldrums. But I think it is actually quite a good thing.

Good advertising is so rare these days that it is useful for everyone to be reminded of what it actually looks like. My old agency, Leo Burnett, used to arrange a lunch ‘n’ learn for my department after the event, using a tape of all the winning ads, with a few of the creatives orchestrating a discussion on what was good and why.

To get to see the good stuff in an informed environment, without having to sit through endless crappy ads by watching TV at home, seemed an efficient way to hone our knowledge.

Also on the plus side, I do have some sympathy with the notion that advertising is an art form and should be celebrated as such. How can I say any different when on my office wall I have three framed travel ad posters from the 1950s? Now whether or not any ads produced today will be adorning the walls of some future columnist’s office is a debatable point, but I see no reason why advertising cannot have artistic merit and still be effective. So if Cannes helps achieve that, then it gets my vote.

One myth I would like to expose about Cannes, though, relates to a study I saw recently which demonstrated that the average Cannes-winning ad drove an extra 20% increase in sales when compared to the average non-Cannes-winning ad. This was then taken to support a claim that, since ‘creative’ work was therefore more successful, all clients should suspend their better judgment and go with their agency’s more creative recommendations.

I disagree. What I think this study proved was that, contrary to popular belief, ad award committees are actually quite good at spotting and giving awards to the minority of ‘creative’ ads which were good enough to drive up sales.

On that note, I expect there will be a healthy Canadian contingent making the trip over, and if it’s not too late, I have a special request for them. I would really like someone to be singing the praises of the advertising behind two of our most successful indigenous brands: Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons.

I know the creative community hates their stuff, but I love them both. I do not aspire to be like Canadian Tire’s bearded, smug git, but I do appreciate him explaining to me how everything works on their latest, available-only-at-Canadian-Tire gizmos. It takes some talent to explain five functions of a machine to a dullard like me in a blended infomercial/continuing story 30-second spot.

I am already on record as a committed Tim Hortons brand admirer, and this also extends to their advertising. To me, the whole Tim’s experience is epitomized by the smiling server turning to camera holding a tray of freshly baked delights: casting, lighting, direction are just perfect. Plus I do like the humour in some of their stuff, together with the emotion in their ‘True Stories’ ads. (More of those please.)

I just think that advertising which has helped to build and nurture such enduring consumer warmth, and also driven business success, should be awarded something.

Twenty-plus years in marketing were enough for John Bradley; he left to do other things which interest him. He writes this column to help the next generation of marketers simplify an overly complex profession. He values and responds to feedback at johnbradley@yknotsolutions.com.