Roll up, roll up for the merry-go-round


Do awards like Cannes have unintended consequences as well as being a worthwhile celebration of creativity?

At our recent Cannes Insider event with guest presenter and Firehaus pal Patrick Collister, a couple of things struck me – again. 

For once it wasn’t a bottle of cider flung by an outraged observer (we’re a rebellious bunch out west). It was how sections of the industry seem to be complicit in a Big Problem Solved merry-go-round.

Patrick made an interesting observation. At the 2018 Cannes Festival, there were 37 refugee campaigns.

This year – one.

His reflection was ‘Has the refugee crisis been resolved?’ Somehow I don’t think so. Neither did any of our guests in attendance.

This merry-go-round of award-winning grand solutions to societal, ecological and healthcare challenges is wearing thin for me. One year an agency and brand hailing a breakthrough in awareness and effectiveness, then returning next year with another Big Problem Solved. Short-termism looks like an unintended consequence.

From a distance, it’s like watching seven-year-olds playing football. Two kids rooted to the goal line while 20 others chase the cause from one side of the pitch to the next.

Consequently few campaigns seem to have longevity built-in, which is why Nature Represented and Palau Pledge looked so smart last year.

There are many agencies who stick with a cause and build up the knowledge required to make campaigns effective over the longer term. Some make it to awards but maybe others are not quite as shiny as the ones on the merry-go-round.

The other thing that struck me (it was one of those nights) was how this also happens with commercial products – dare I say it, selling stuff. One year ‘X’ brand engages millennials with a world-first. With eye-watering results, another Big Problem Solved. The next year the same brand, the same agency, the same audience, seemingly the same challenge, another idea. 

Hold on. Didn’t the thing you did last year solve the problem? Didn’t it reach a new audience of millions, re-engage existing customers, increase relevance, find a purpose and activate the latent desire of people to change the world – as well as sell more stuff. What happened to that thing? It looked amazing. Is it dead?

Hopefully, the Creative Effectiveness category will continue to see a 34% increase in entries as it did this year according to WARC. That feels like the way ahead, particularly as Shared Value is on the road to offering robust commercial measurement. Although it is a movement that comes with its own controversy.

I’m convinced the vast majority of marketers do want to change things for the better, but the merry-go-round spins too fast. Daily stock prices, weekly P&L reporting, annual shareholder meetings, CMO turnover, zero-based budgeting, easy to tick CSR commitments, extractive revenue, the awards cycle – conspiring against that desire. Short-termism means brands are still struggling to work out a consistent response to societal and climate challenges.

I totally subscribe to the evidence presented by Binet, Field and others. Consistent reinforcement of the brand idea (and/or product) with fresh ideas from the brand and the 60/40 rule, looks like a given. But claiming to have solved a major problem one year only to re-solve it the following year (few submissions seem to suggest they’re building on previous campaigns) starts to look like ‘here’s one for the awards show’. And we’re better than that – unless we’re still just extracting revenue not creating value.

Cannes Insider shared some truly inspirational work. I love Destination Pride (which we saw last year at the Echo’s too), Dream Crazy (obs), FCB’s Endangered Syndrome (continuing their excellent work), Huawei’s StorySign, AeroMexico’s brilliant DNA Discounts, Volvo’s EVA Project (a truly grand gesture), Deutsche Bahn’s No Need to Fly, and NYT The Truth is worth it – just for starters.

Once again Patrick did a brilliant job of adding value to the case studies with deeper insights, diverse comparisons and audience challenges. The discussions that followed went on long into the night. I’ve been told it’s materially affected campaigns being produced right now

But it also prompted me to think – what value would people outside the industry reward? They’ll demand more than a trip on the merry-go-round when the day of reckoning comes. 

Commenting on the recent Salesforce Trends in Consumer Trust report, CMO Stephanie Buscemi said that  ‘Customers are in the midst of a trust crisis’.

The day of reckoning may not be so far away.

Patrick Collister is editor and publisher of Directory. Check out this extremely useful resource

Vintage photo created by

Ian Bates