Do Cannes Winners Translate to ROI? Oui!

Now that those celebratory late nights at the Gutter Bar are behind us, it’s time to take a more clear-eyed view of whether all that award-winning work at Cannes delivered on the objectives set by the people who actually bankroll the stuff.

Advertising’s annual sojourn to the South of France, known officially as the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, has long been a glamorous agency-centric toast to creativity and craft. But in 2003 a funny thing happened on the way to the Croisette; Procter & Gamble, a company not then known for flashy work, sent its top marketing execs to the festival. Since then, marketers have become a big part of Cannes. This year, reps from 400 clients attended Cannes, accounting for 15 percent of the delegate base, an amount expected to double within five years.

“In the last five-to-six years there’s been a massive increase in clients’ participation and engagement at Cannes. They want a better understanding of what creativity can do for their brands,” said Phil Thomas, CEO, of Cannes Lions. “Clients like Coca-Cola, Kraft, P&G and Unilever have said to me, ‘We want to be up there leading the conversation.’ ”

That increasing influence is being felt in the way Cannes recognizes creative work. Thomas says the festival is considering the launch of a new “Creative Effectiveness” Lion next year.  While currently, award applicants in categories like direct, promotion and print have been asked to supply some proof of results, the new award would have a more precise mechanism to make the correlation.

Nevertheless, a close look at some of the Cannes winners shows that ROI isn’t always proven, though it often is. 

For instance, it was none other than P&G that picked up the Film Grand Prix this year for Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” TV spot from Wieden + Kennedy. There is little doubt about the viral hit’s popularity. Launched in February, the official version has racked up nearly 12.2 million YouTube views. But sales of the featured product—Red Zone After Hours Body Wash—aren’t necessarily tracking with that consumer appeal: In the 52 weeks ended June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7 percent according to SymphonyIRI. (That amount excludes those rung up at Walmart.) P&G execs were not available to comment.

Another much-lauded hit at Cannes was Gatorade’s “Replay” effort, which scored a Promo and PR Grand Prix; gold Lion in Integrated and a silver Lion in Media. TBWA\Chiat\Day brought back high-school football teams, whose members are now in their mid-30s, to replay a game that ended in a tie. The game, between rivals in Easton, Pa., and Phillipsburg, N.J., was played in front of 15,000 fans after tickets sold out in 90 minutes, and made into a five-part online documentary. But that fascination for the game didn’t translate to the brand off-field. Gatorade sales fell 8.5 percent in the 52 weeks ended Jan. 24, per Mintel. (TBWA, however, said regional sales increased 63 percent after the Replay game.)

Lauren Fritts, Gatorade’s manager, emerging content, said the effort wasn’t aimed solely at generating sales. “This is about everyday athleticism,” she said. “Once you’re an athlete, you’re always an athlete. Even if you haven’t played sports since high school, we want you to know Gatorade understands that and is relevant to you.”

Indeed, although Gatorade can’t claim a bump in sales, it can point to a bonanza of free media: The event was named one of CNN’s top stories of 2009 and picked up as a TV series by Fox Sports Net, with the first season airing nationally to 90 million households. The third season is just kicking off, and Fritts said Gatorade received 2,000 team nominations. As a consequence, a new Replay League is being created by teams who weren’t selected but want to stage their own Replay. “As a marketer, when someone takes your idea as their own you know it’s a success,” said Fritts, who adds that Gatorade will sponsor those teams.

In many other cases, a Cannes winner scored sales gains as well. For instance, Nike’s Chalkbot campaign at 2009’s Tour de France, which featured a machine that left chalk-written messages on the course about the Livestrong Foundation, coincided with a 46 percent jump in sales for Nike’s Livestrong Collection, generating $4 million for Lance Armstrong’s fight against cancer.

Doug Ulman, the CEO of the cyclist’s cancer foundation, said he couldn’t be sure the creative, by Wieden + Kennedy, was totally responsible. “Was the success because of the campaign or Lance’s return to the tour? It’s hard to know,” said Ulman.

In another instance where a creative triumph seemed to also dovetail with business success, Crispin Porter + Bogusky took home the Titanium Grand Prix winner for Best Buy’s launch last July of Twelpforce, which uses Twitter to connect and handle customer service questions. A year later, Twelpforce counts 27,000 followers and has generated 30,000 Tweets. Launch TV spots, which used blue-shirted Best Buy staffers and closed showing a laptop, may also have helped back-to-school business, with laptop sales exceeding the retailer’s goals by 40 percent. John Bernier, social and emerging media manager at Best Buy, credits Twelpforce’s visibility with making Best Buy’s employees more socially savvy. Some 2,700 of them have signed up to participate in it.  “There was a lot of early momentum and adoption,” he said. “People who participated in Twelpforce said they wanted to lead the social media effort at their stores.”

Meanwhile, of the year’s most whimsical viral efforts, Volkswagen Sweden’s “The Fun Theory” from DDB Stockholm, also provided strong ROI. That push turned a stairwell in a subway into a keyboard to encourage people to take the stairs and has logged 19 million views on You Tube since its October release. The pitch, which won a Cyber Grand Prix, also posted strong sales: VW’s overall share of that market more than tripled to 13 percent in the first six months of this year, as sales rose 58 percent.

Despite the occasional exception, Mark Tutssel, Burnett’s global chief creative officer and a Cannes judge, said that Cannes winners tend to be solid business successes as well. In previous years, Burnett has conducted surveys tracking award-winning advertising with the corresponding brand’s business performance. In its most recent survey, Burnett found an 86 percent correlation, up from 78 percent in 1997, the first year of the study.  “You have to be creative to connect with people in the marketplace,” Tutssel said. “As Cannes evolves, it reflects the changes in our industry. Before we were in the creative business. Now we’re in the business of creativity. There used to be two sides to the argument. In the real world of advertising it was about how well it sells and then there were other people who designed ads to win awards. It’s not an either/or situation, it’s now an and/and situation.”