Are Cannes Lions Grand Prix-Winning Ads Effective? A Study Says No, Unless It’s a Tide Ad

But Gold winners? They’re, er, gold

David Harbour hugs group of older people playing tennis in white shirts for Tide ad.
David Harbour stars in Tide's Super Bowl campaign, which played with many ad tropes. Tide

CANNES, France—Congratulations, you’ve won a Grand Prix. But is it as effective with consumers as it is with an esteemed panel of creative superstars? A study gauging the effectiveness of Cannes Lions winners may temper the elation of those taking home the biggest prize out there—the Grand Prix—but Gold winners make an impact with consumers.

Predictive marketing firm System1 in London tested 75 Grand Prix and Gold Cannes Lions winners in the Film category from 2010 to 2018. Using a scale of one to five, the methodology, validated by the IPA in the U.K., measures emotional response to every ad on TV in major categories to predict likely effectiveness. The ratings also predict long-term brand growth.

“By testing these brilliantly creative ads, we wanted to show marketers and creatives that they have nothing to fear from ad testing,” said John Kearon, CEO of System1. “When you take emotion as your main measure, testing becomes more accurate and far better at spotting great creativity. But we also found a disconnect between juries’ critical response and people’s emotional response at the very highest level of the Cannes Lions event.”

On the upside, Gold and Grand Prix winners are three times as likely to score well with viewers than the average TV ad. On the downside, only four Grand Prix winners scored a three or higher and half of Grand Prix winners scored only one-star, including the highly lauded “The Talk” for P&G last year and 2017’s “The Truth Is Hard to Find” for the New York Times in 2017. Of the 71 ads tested, 53% scored a three or higher, compared to 16% of all ads rated. Awarded ads are eight times more likely to get the top five-star rating.

Taking the top overall score was Wieden + Kennedy Portland’s 2012 “Best Job” ad for P&G. Deutsch’s Gold-winning “The Force” ad for VW in 2011 was also a top U.S. scorer, while two ads from Argentina and one from Singapore were deemed tops. Saatchi and Saatchi’s “It’s a Tide Ad” was the only Cannes Grand Prix winner to nab the top ratings, finishing sixth out of the top six ads rated.

One interesting learning from the study shows that humor may not always hit home. U.K. retailer Harvey Nichols had two Grand Prix winners over the decade get only one-star ratings with “Sorry, I Spent It On Myself” rated as the third lowest in the survey.

“The results show that humor can be a real divider for ads,” said Kearon. “Stuff that comes across as brilliantly sharp within [the industry] will make some viewers really furious. Surreal jokes and irony also often fail to land more broadly. Some of the best ads are hilarious, so this isn’t a knock on humor as a tactic–just a reminder that senses of humor aren’t always widely shared. What the highest-scoring funny ads do, like “It’s A Tide Ad,” is often lead the viewer into the joke, make them feel part of it and give them a little time to get it. It can work wonders.”

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@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.