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Effectiveness Brand Strategy Cannes Lions

What 15,000 consumers actually think about Cannes Lions winners


By Andrew Tindall, SVP at System1

June 25, 2024 | 12 min read

We’ve no patience for rosé wine-tinted goggles at The Drum. System1’s Andrew Tindall tested Lion-winning ads on real people to see if the festival still celebrates effective work.

A cut up of several winning ads, they all feature people eating noodles

I spent the last week at the Cannes Lions, and despite what you hear about our industry, I felt it was packed with a truly diverse bunch of people. I saw plenty of Young Lions knocking about. Speakers included creatives, planners, media floggers, and brand-side-lifers. And as a queer marketer who finds himself getting campier by the day, I was VERY pleased to see how HUGE Google’s iconic Cannes Pride event was.

But do you know who I didn’t meet once?

The consumer.

This isn’t new. My System1 boss, the infamous Uncensored CMO Jon Evans, has been shouting about it for years. In fact, after we’d shared a few too many bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pompous one evening, he came up with a great solution. Because it fell in the magical pissed-goldilocks-zone of one-to-three glasses of wine, I believe it’s an ingenious idea.

Seeing as we spend the week riding around Cannes in taxis anyway, we should show the work to the drivers. We should then quiz them on what they liked and whether they can recall the correct brand.

The ‘Taxi Lion,’ we could call it, is judged by the folks we advertise to.

Luckily, in the morning, we realized we work at a creative effectiveness agency. One that uses real consumers and their emotions to measure how creatively effective work is, whether the ad itself can deliver the right branded emotional resonance to bring over and above long or short-term effects—irrelevant of the media plan. We discover its creative potential.

So we saved a few thousand euros on taxi bills and probably spent it on more wine.

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Another perk of using System1 testing and not relying on my taxi-small talk is the wonders of modern online research, which allowed us to test on a large scale in just 24 hours. Our team spent the weekend testing about 100 winning Cannes campaigns (even some of the shortlist). That’s research with 15,000 global consumers that I’m casually dishing out for free in a column, the kind of quality content you’ve come to expect from me, and The Drum.

It’s worth highlighting one more time.

We didn’t ask 15,000 marketers. We asked 15,000 shitmunchers.

Hold your offense; I mean it with all the love in the world. Shitmunchers drive all industries. They know very little about the category because they’re actually normal and never think about it. Regardless, they make up most of the volume by buying very infrequently. Byron Sharp might call them “light buyers,” but that’s far too dull for my tastes. We are all shitmunchers in some respect. I don’t know my arse from my Chablis, so I order the second most expensive wine on the list. I often catch sommeliers sniggering at me. I am an unashamed wine shitmuncher.

And that brings me to the point. We should celebrate shitmunchers. We should bring a few to Cannes and make them look at the ads. The sole role of marketing is to bring the “average Joe” into the business through research, strategy and the 4 Ps. And we cannot forget that.

So, in that spirit, here are three gems of wisdom that the lovely 15,000 mange-merdes gifted me.

1. The most effective creative awards in a while – thanks humor

As Byron Sharp and the gang showed in 2016, marketers are as good as flipping a coin when choosing effective campaigns. Granted, if you have category experience or work in marketing analytics, you naturally get better.

A person standing in front of a graph Description automatically generated

This means an awards judge has a hard time on their hands. And as my article shared a few weeks ago, creatively awarded ads between 2021 and 2023 had officially become average. It was nice to see Mark Ritson actively using this data at Cannes, beating marketers over the head and showing that the past three years’ worth of UK and US creatively awarded ads had very similar long-term effectiveness to any global ad. He’s actually doing an online talk about this data on Thursday.

A person standing on a stage Description automatically generated

But this year, we can see that Film-winning Cannes campaigns had more 3-, 4- and 5-Star ads than our global database of 150,000 ads. And the past three years of creatively awarded ads. In our 2024 testing, you can see that long-term effectiveness appears turning in the right direction. It’s worth considering how this has happened – it’s largely thanks to humor.

We know that the use of humor is incredibly effective. A great example is the winning ‘Sammakorn Not Sanpakorn’ ad, which scored almost full marks in our testing. With the Cannes winners no longer taking themselves too seriously, effectiveness has jumped up. Seventy-eight percent of Lion UK and US winners used humor. This is a massive benefit of Cannes, if it can promote humor in advertising, maybe we will have a chance of bringing it back.

As you can see from the chart below, funny ads died of death years ago.

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2. Some winners are effectiveness jewels, not just Film winners

From our data, Mother’s campaign for Uber One with Robert De Niro and Asa Butterfield is really up there in film creative effectiveness. Again, the strategy of bringing the two offerings together in a broadly appealing humorous piece of work with celebs and wider cultural appeal is smart. It’s also just rather well-crafted and pleasant to watch.

Adam&EveDDB also made magic for Pot Noodle and a rare chance to celebrate the “short” instead of banging on about “long-term brand building.” Its slurping campaign winner used intense negative emotions to drive immediate brand effects, growing sales by 10% straight after the campaign launch. In our testing, you’ll see it scores 1-Star for long-term effectiveness as you need positive emotions for that, but it gets a mighty Spike Rating. Great evidence that negative emotions can be very effective in the short-term

Finally, this Saatchi&Saatchi Tide ad winning in the influencer category with Kumail Nanjiani is as brilliant as ever from Tide. Taking viral clips and turning them into Tide ads.

3. Some of the shortlist was overlooked

Possibly the juiciest final thought, what campaigns in the shortlist should have won from the consumer’s POV?

How did Dove not win with its anti-AI campaign in the ‘Glass: Lion For Change’ category?

This is creative consistency while showing how purpose can effectively grow a brand. It remains fresh and modern. It’s one of my favorite campaigns ever, and the shitmunchers clearly agree. Although it was great to see the amazing Orange AI women’s football campaign win big too.

Wieden+Kennedy’s ‘As Featured In McDonald’s’ is also a masterpiece. And not the normal brand-centric self-congratulatory birthday trash brands wheel out. It clearly features the occasions you’d eat a McDonald’s while building global social proof and using enough different films to be broadly appealing to all.

And I fear this might be another example of creatives hating on Christmas ads, as this KFC Christmas shortlist didn’t make it to the winners list despite being uniquely genius and having an effective emotional strategy that either made consumers swoon or grab their pitchforks. Winner-winner chicken dinner in my books.

There we have it—bridging the gap between ad land, consumers and data—all in the day job. All hail the shitmunchers.

Effectiveness Brand Strategy Cannes Lions

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