By Thom Forbes
Publicis Groupe's decision to save money by not entering any advertising awards shows next year seemed to have elicited more puzzlement than empathy in the media reports filed from the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, where CEO Arthur Sadoun dropped the bombshell in June.
Some suggested it was a publicity stunt by the new boss, who indicated his holding company's promotional budget would be better spent on developing Marcel, a platform powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. But some parried — mostly anonymously — that the awards scene in general has become a boondoggle of self-congratulations.
Indeed, Publicis' announcement raises some bigger-picture questions about the perceived value of creative awards to brands themselves:
- Do marketers care if their brands win these awards?
- What do marketers think about the amount of money agencies spend on entering awards each year?
- Do agencies that win awards get any advantage during the RFP process?
- Do awards mean anything more than prestige? And who really gets the glory, the marketer or the agency?
More so today than in the Mad Men era, of course, marketers are intricately involved in the creative process.
"I strongly believe in co-creation. Good work comes from an outstanding collaboration between the agency and marketer," says Nuno Teles, CMO at Heineken USA. "At the end of the day, you want your work to be memorable, and if that merits rewarding, that's icing on the cake.
"I believe marketers should care about impacting consumers with great brand creativity that improve client results," he continues. "Awards that recognize great work should make marketers proud, but I would reinforce that the idea should always connect to why the creative was done in the first place: to find a new or compelling way to tell your story to consumers."
Teles is not alone in making the connection between prize-winning creative and the bond it makes with its target demographic.
"Awards are very important to me," says Greg Lyons, CMO at PepsiCo North America Beverages. "Not because of the prestige, but because over my career I've seen that marketing that is creatively special cuts through with consumers. This helps brands stand out and ultimately sell more. Winning awards helps build the confidence of both the brand and agency teams. A confident team thinks big while others play it safe."
Lyons also suggests that "it's a virtuous cycle" if you can get a brand and agency team that consistently wins awards, and that such an experience always leads to success for both parties and businesses.
PepsiCo, in fact, has a special section of its website dedicated to the awards and accolades it receives around the globe, not only for its creative executions but also its responsible business practices.
Although Allstate's marketing efforts also have received recognition over the years, Sanjay Gupta, the insurer's former EVP and CMO, says the subject "does not come up in daily conversations. However, I do think that as a creative person — or even an account person — with an agency, awards can serve as a source of pride and help achieve upward career movement. It's just important to keep in mind that business outcomes are what we primarily seek. But there is certainly nothing wrong with receiving recognition along the way."
As for whether awards give agencies an advantage in winning new business, Gupta says he's "not interested if a piece of creative won an award or not. If it is great marketing, it will resonate with an audience, and that is what you want. More importantly, I look to see if the work has driven or will drive desired business results."
Winning awards indisputably creates visibility for an agency, points out Dana Anderson, CMO at MediaLink, which in February was acquired by Ascential, the parent company of the Cannes Lions. "Having a brilliant, celebrated campaign can put an agency on the map — and on the radar of clients, who will invite them by name into the RFP process," she says.
That doesn't mean a case full of trophies alone will win the business.
"At the end of the day, creative ideas that drive the best opportunity for improved performance will always win out," Heineken's Teles says. "A pedigree of strong performances at award shows is a good indicator of talent and previous work, however, the best ideas that are the best fit will always rise to the top."
Anderson posits that most research over the years has suggested a correlation between award-winning work and superior brand performance.
"While I don't have fresh, empirical data to point to, I believe it is impossible to deny the fact that the most remarkable, creative advertising permeates contemporary culture. It becomes part of the conversation and fabric of the population," she says. "Consider how many people watch the Super Bowl to see the ads and not the game. People love stories, especially those that are expressed through stunning sight, sound, and motion."
Of course, the landscape has changed quite a bit since Apple introduced the Macintosh computer with its "1984" spot during the 1984 Super Bowl, subsequently winning the Grand Prix award at the Cannes Festival. In short, the screens in everybody's pockets are arguably becoming even more persuasive than the larger ones.
"Our industry is enjoying creative contributions from a more diverse array of sources than ever before — from social media influencers to emerging tech storytellers to content specialists inside publishers and brands themselves," Anderson says. "When these folks are brought into the fold of awards, it sheds light on the breadth of where creativity can come from for marketers and helps advance our storytelling capabilities."
But, just as powerful, award-winning storytelling has sold a lot of Macs — and small-screen devices — for Apple, the bottom line remains the bottom line for any brand.
"As a marketer, my top priority is to drive business results," Gupta says. "I can't tell you the last time I looked at how many awards we've won, but I do pay attention every day to how the business is doing and how we can continue to push for better outcomes. However, I think awards can boost the morale of the internal team and the creative staff at an agency, so I do support efforts to pursue them."
Is it all worth the time, effort, and particularly, money?
"Marketers understand that the business of awards is, indeed, a business," MediaLink's Anderson says. "Because of the positive impact that awards can have on creative talent, many trust that an investment in awards is a long-term investment in innovative and inspired people working on their business."
The pricey submission costs bother others. "For me personally, it does not make sense to be so costly. I believe most marketers would agree," Teles says.
The takeaway? Perhaps there's a contingent of nose-to-the-grindstone marketers out there who believe that awards are just a bunch of expensive hooey, but CMOs interviewed say recognition has its place in honoring work that tells compelling stories, which drives results.