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Were the Cannes Lions' print and outdoor winners actually effective ads? Here's the answer

By Jon Evans |

June 28, 2022 | 7 min read

The Drum has extensively covered the winners of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Jon Evans, chief marketing officer at ad ranking database System1, discusses how the Print and Outdoor winners may score in the prestigious eye of the jury, but not always in the public eye.

Historically, adverts that win awards are more profitable than the ones that don’t. But in recent years, the link between awards and effectiveness has weakened. This can be even more challenging with static ads, for they need to make a rapid impact in a brief visibility window, while potentially withstanding repeat viewings.

System1 tested this year’s winners at Cannes – measuring the emotional response to creativity – to see how they performed with the general public. We found that agencies took advantage of viewers’ ad literacy of other brands’ assets to promote their own. The result is simple: elegant, brilliantly executed ideas.

Adidas liquid billboard

To win on both fronts, brands and agencies must learn how to get their work to resonate with the public in the long term. The below are ads that work both at a quick glance and on multiple encounters—exactly what’s needed for outdoor and print.

PEPSI – “BETTER WITH PEPSI”

Gold Lions: Outdoor, Print & Publishing

uplose photo of burger kind flag

Pepsi’s ads for National Burger Day, where the soft drinks giant “found” its distinctive logo on the wrappers of the three biggest burger chains, won universal industry praise and two Gold Lions.

It’s a clever campaign, but with three other brands’ assets jostling for space with Pepsi, was it a little too clever? Our test showed good 3-star scores for McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King’s ads, as well as a very strong 4.5-star response for the ad showing the three burger mascots, which was not honored.

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That’s a great score for a campaign, which demands a level of ad literacy from viewers. The brand fluency scores weren’t quite as sparkling; most viewers failed the Pepsi challenge in terms of working out who the ad is for. That’s not a fatal flaw though since the ad is targeting burger buying occasions, and overall, this is an example of where viewers and juries agree on some excellent work.

HEINZ – “DRAW KETCHUP”

Gold Lion: Print & Publishing

billboard with a drawing of a ketchup bottle

Distinctive assets are important, and Heinz is a brand that knows it. In this ad, they’re having fun pointing out that if you ask people to draw ketchup, they’ll draw the distinctive Heinz bottles and logo. It’s a playful, simple and cute way to underline your category dominance.

Our test showed a respectable 2.9-star score for long-term potential and emotional response – a little above average for static ads. But for short-term spike and brand fluency, “Draw Ketchup” performed exceptionally well.

Static ads often struggle to balance this recognizability with entertaining viewers, and Heinz manage both here, even if the balance is skewed a little to the short term. It’s an ad that reinforces assets and communicates reliability and ubiquity in an elegant way.

KFC – “KFC IKEA”

Bronze Lion: Outdoor

yellow and blue billboard for KFC

KFC were opening a new branch in a Spanish town well-known for its IKEA store. So, they borrowed the Swedish brand’s font and colors for a cheeky billboard. Playing around with distinctive assets is clearly a trend, but like the Pepsi burger ads, this had the potential to create confusion as much as entertain people with its cleverness.

It scored 2.7-stars on our test, which is not a bad score, given the fact that viewers wouldn’t necessarily have the full context. Most of the emotional response was for surprise, where it scored well over average, and this drove an exceptional short-term spike score. In terms of effectiveness, that’s fine, given the purpose of the billboard, which is to drive opening day sales for a new branch.

BURGER KING – “RONALD ORDERS A WHOPPER”

Bronze Lion: Outdoor

porch with burger king to-go bag

Awards juries have an inexhaustible appetite for Burger King, or at least for their ads, which troll their famous red-and-yellow rival. BK picked up another Bronze Lion for this ad, in which a doorstep BK delivery is made to a house that the sharp-eyed viewer will realize belongs to Ronald McDonald.

The ad only scored 2.2-stars, with very few viewers picking up on the McDonald’s connection and most simply responding to the idea of doorstep delivery. So, is the ad too subtle for its own good? No. In fact, the subtlety of the visual joke saves the poster from the trap of confusing viewers.

People may not have known who was getting the burger, but they definitely knew who was delivering it, and the ad got exceptional short-term spike and brand fluency scores.

ADIDAS – “LIQUID BILLBOARD”

Grand Prix, Outdoor

billboard with two divers in a pool

Finally, the Grand Prix winner in Outdoor, Adidas’ Dubai installation “Liquid Billboard,” promoting its inclusive sportswear range by building a billboard that conceals a real pool, letting swimmers dive in and swim underwater as if they were in an aquarium. It has the combination of simplicity and ‘wow’ factor and works both in real life and as a viral video going well beyond the Middle East.

The high surprise factor and delightful concept helped “Liquid Billboard” score 4 stars, showing strong long-term potential. It didn’t do as well on brand fluency or short-term spike score since the motion of the swimmer obscures the logo a little. But brand-building, rather than a specific commercial imperative, is the point here. The public agree with the judges – this is something special.

Jon Evans is the chief growth officer of System1, a marketing decision-making platform that helps predict and improve the commercial impact of ads and innovation.

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