Creativity Acquires A Conscience


"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"

Bette Davies, in All About Eve

There is a demonstrable link between creativity and effectiveness. That much we know. The data - for those who care to examine it - is plentiful. The IPA’s databank for example, and the analysis it has conducted on it provides us with invaluable evidence for the link between the two.

But not all creativity is effective.

We are as an industry experimenting like never before. The buzzwords of engagement, participation, propagation, transmedia and the like abound in strategic and creative discussions. But there has been one unanswered question.

In advance of Cannes and looking at the new breed of advertising the industry is producing, Giles Hedger the Chief Strategy Officer at Leo Burnett put his finger on this hitherto largely unanswered question:

“Did this new breed of advertising actually work? It was in many cases quicker and cheaper than the powerful attrition of mass media impressions, but could it – for all its new media mojo – unite broad populations of people around a brand? Could it, for all its risk and showmanship, drive to a commercially valuable outcome. And could it, for all its participatory zeal, achieve lasting behaviour change?”

So the  introduction of an Effectiveness Awards to the Cannes Lions is to be welcomed.  

The submission requirement is significant - only entries that were either shortlisted or winners in the preceding year are eligible to enter into Creative Effectiveness Lions, as these will have already been judged and established as being creatively world-class. 

In introducing these awards the Cannes Lions have now acquired a conscience, and this feels like a significant evolution. It provides us with yet another platform on which to demonstrate that creativity is not an indulgence, but a requirement for effectiveness. 

Our ultimate measure and standard after all, is work that works. Work that doesn’t simply move the needle on intermediate measures (‘brand equity’, brand awareness, likes, mentions, views, tweets and the like) but that creates real economic value for businesses (sales, value, share, discounted cash flow and the like). For the inescapable truth is that our efforts are for naught if they have no effect in the world.

With luck, the introduction of Effectiveness Awards to the Cannes Lions may also temper some of unsubstantiated and self-serving rhetoric that we have all been subjected to for too long. 

For there has been a tendency in our industry to parade - without any supporting evidence - the new and innovative as The Future. To declare it as showing The Way Forwards that we must all now take. To deem it the Thing that will replace everything else. And the standard by which all our efforts and outputs will henceforth be measured by.

We’re all familiar with the case studies. The sort of stuff that moves Time magazine to confidently declare last year that “The days when mass-market media is the sole vehicle to reach an audience are officially over.” Or a CMO to pronounce that “We believe it's the way of communicating in the future”. Or a recording artist declare to an audience at Cannes that "Yesterday's ways of informing people don’t work today".

It is one thing to declare something brave and innovative. Risk and experimentation should be encouraged. And with that must come a preparedness to fail. It’s the only way we learn. But it is quite another to scorn those who advocate the ‘traditional’ methods, declare everything else dead, and anoint the new as our lord and master and the way to do business henceforth. 

So when one looks to the winners of the Cannes Effectiveness Lions it is interesting  to note that for all their innovation and undermining of the ‘traditional’ way of doing things, few of those shiny new This Changes Everything campaigns that so many of us got exercised over actually succeeded in convincing the jury that they had an impact on business results.

Now evaluating effectiveness and then convincing a jury of the case is admittedly a highly complex and difficult task. But given the strength of the rhetoric around some of this work (admittedly not always from its creators), it is not altogether unfair to expect the strong rhetoric to be matched by a strongly persuasive case for effectiveness.

The winning entries turned out to be for McDonalds, Old Spice, The Pacific, Snickers, and Gillette. With the Grand Prix being awarded to Walkers.

Despite the claim in some quarters about the big idea being ‘dead’, what characterizes all the winners was a big, simple idea.  In most instances, despite the rhetoric of  TV being ‘dead’, broadcast TV was successfully used to achieve reach and salience. And all found ways to efficiently extend and deepen that reach, whether through on- or offline means.

How very old school.

If we want our innovations to be taken seriously, we are either going to have to do a better job of working out how to leverage the new methods of connecting people to brands for business effect, or a better job of analyzing and persuasively describing these effects.

It’s worth repeating that I believe innovation and risk should be encouraged and celebrated. 

But legislating off the back of them is - until they are proven - something that should be resisted. The introduction of an effectiveness conscience to Cannes may give those prone to this habit at least some pause for thought. As Giles - who sat on the effectiveness jury - eloquently put it:

“We will no doubt see emergent models for describing and measuring the tangible outcome of creativity. We will see the paradox of the creatively brilliant but behaviourally impotent ‘one-off’. We will see the difference between participation for the 1% and participation for the 99%. We will see upstream creative thinking compete for ROI with downstream publicity. And we will see the value of the networked idea set naked against the value of surprise and delight.”

The introduction of empirical evidence and the rigorous evaluations of an independent jury into our necessary discussions and debates means that things are going to get a lot more interesting.  Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to get a bit bumpy.