Who needs Cannes, we’ll have the Besties

As the annual Cannes advertising festival rolls around yet again, seemingly only a few weeks since the last time, the question of just how these things should be awarded rears its ugly head. Naturally the winners think the current process is rigorous and scrupulously fair, whereas everyone else thinks it's a complete sham. I can't claim to be an expert in this area as, for most of my career, I studiously avoided attending any awards bashes, even if we were up for them. But I broke the habit of a lifetime over the winter and attended

As the annual Cannes advertising festival rolls around yet again, seemingly only a few weeks since the last time, the question of just how these things should be awarded rears its ugly head. Naturally the winners think the current process is rigorous and scrupulously fair, whereas everyone else thinks it’s a complete sham. I can’t claim to be an expert in this area as, for most of my career, I studiously avoided attending any awards bashes, even if we were up for them. But I broke the habit of a lifetime over the winter and attended

the Cassies.

The intent of the Cassies is of course to focus on sales results rather than ‘creativity’ and in the process make a case for the financial returns that advertising generates. Can’t complain about the intent, but that was not quite what came over.

For a start, the jury seemed to be long on the advertising profession and distinctly short on econometricians. As we all know when a brand declines, there are countless factors we can point to as having influenced the outcome: pricing, promotion, display, recalcitrant retailers, competitors who seem to have a licence to lose money and so on. However, when things go well, we seem much more certain as to the reasons why. A bit of visibly unbiased proof around the impact of the advertising would not

go amiss.

The second thing that struck me at the Cassies was that campaigns with very modest sales results seemed to be in the hat. I thus formed the uneasy impression that in fact EVERY seemingly successful campaign had been entered. Now of course, the entries represent a tiny fraction of all campaigns run in the year, so you can see where I’m heading with this. I already knew that SOME advertising works; the issue we face is that the hit rate seems to be getting worse, not better. Seeing a parade of lottery winners would not convince me that entering the lottery is a sound strategy for wealth creation, so learning that some advertising worked does not help sell me on the concept that advertising investments in general are reliably sound.

While I have attended strategy’s Agency of the Year, I have never ventured into the darker recesses of the awards for creativity. But that doesn’t stop me coming up with a solution to the whole thing. I think we should aim to correct some of the more self-evident flaws in the status quo and

at the same time, learn from the

outside world where similar problems of judgment occur.

To that end, I would adopt the ice skating model and combine the technical merit aspect (payback) with artistic impression (creativity) into one mega-award show. The judging panel for payback would be a slew of grizzled academics from the economics department of one of our finer universities, and the panel for creativity would be a selection of authors, artists and sculptors. Each counts for 50%, so to win you have to have an irrefutable payback attributable to the advertising, and to have done it with some panache. After all, we can’t admit that the future lies in Bowflex-type infomercials.

To head off the problem of tiny accounts being put forward to showcase outlandish creativity, I would have a minimum annual sales level of, say $10 million, for the brand in question. For advertising to survive as an industry, it has to be able to perform in the big leagues, irrespective of allegedly overly cautious clients. And if you enter one brand, you have to enter all your brands to give you a company average score to weed out the lucky hits.

Modesty forbids me from suggesting that these awards be called the Bradlies, so my vote would go for the Besties.

Twenty-plus years in marketing were enough for John Bradley; he left to do other things that 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.