Why Creative Agencies Rule Media… at Least at Cannes

Why Media Agencies Don’t Win More Media Lions, and How They Can Do Better

By:  Appeared in Ad Age: June 26, 2012

The results are out for the Cannes Media Lions and appear to be a blow for the established media agency networks. Congratulations go to Manning GotliebOMD in London for winning the Grand Prix, to be sure, but fellow media shops didn’t fare so well when it came to picking up the silverware.

From more than 100 media trophies handed out last week in the Grand Audi of the Palais des Festivals, a paltry 22 went to media planning and buying agencies. An overwhelming 80% of the awards were picked up largely by creative agencies, with a smattering of digital or content specialists. Now, I’m not about to dis the festival. I admit I would have liked our agency to have done better. But what does it say if the agencies entrusted with media budgets of billions of dollars aren’t winning these awards?

Creative agencies are just more focused on trophies. Let’s face it: Creative agencies want to win awards more badly.

The reputations and careers of creatives are made at Cannes, with job offers often following success at the festival. A communications planner or media buyer primarily gets kudos from the agency and the satisfaction of a job well done. Rarely does winning a media award have a monetary impact to their monthly pay that correlates with the impact for creative professionals.

Perhaps it’s more clear that a media award is the result of many hands in the agency touching the campaign … planners, print buyers, broadcast negotiators, out-of-home staff, digital/social teams, the insights group, media partners and, of course, creative agencies. There’s a lot of credit that gets shared across the agency and beyond, so it’s hard for two to three individuals to truly claim it. We’re a little more altruistic at the media agencies.

Creative agencies are also much better storytellers — which comes in handy when they’re telling their own story in awards applications. Last year, I judged an awards show where the media jury was completely seduced by the case video and written submission for the Microsoft Bing/JayZ out-of-home campaign. Even though the campaign ran in New York City, none of the New Yorkers on the final panel could recall ever seeing it. No matter. And no excuses: If the media agencies want to win at Cannes, then we just have to want it more — certainly more than we want it now.

Cannes is still about ‘creative’ media awards. While media agencies see their principle role as media-investment advisers and distributors of messaging, Cannes is still really about how creative and inventive a marketer and their agencies can be. Take the Gold Lions awarded in media this year. Six of the clients were nonprofits or causes. That suggests that not only have big media budgets become irrelevant to winning, they are threatening to become a hindrance.

With the exception of Mediacom’s delightful campaign for Canon, I doubt if the total combined paid media budget for the other Gold campaigns was more than $300,000.

I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the terrific winning submissions. They were all worthy winners. But I would say the media award shows are in danger of become media’s equivalent of an haute couture fashion show, rather than ready to wear. Then again, no one is going to want to see a best use of data award!

The definition of “media” continues to broaden. Any campaign that smacked of conventional or heavily traditional media wasn’t even shortlisted — and rightly so. This year, new media ranged from an Antwerp movie theater full of bikers for Carlsberg to floating foam crosses promoting World Aids Day to a couple of polar bears watching the Super Bowl for Coca-Cola. Whatever the media idea or platform, YouTube, Facebook, Google and Twitter featured in almost every one of the best campaigns. Note to planners: if the campaign you’re planning isn’t social by design, then don’t bother entering next year.

The winning campaigns were, on the whole, quite inspirational. And if this is how the judges see the best that media has to offer, then fair game, that’s the bar we all need to aspire to. It’s incumbent on everyone working in media, whichever agency you work for, to come back next year with more groundbreaking media innovation.

Click here to view the winning 2012 Media Lion award submissions.

Asia – a hot bed for media innovation …

The world has recognized Asia’s emergence as an engine for advertising growth, but it may not have registered another equally compelling phenomenon: Asia’s capacity to upstage the rest of us in media innovation.

I spent last week in Singapore as president of the media jury at Spikes Asia, the region’s top awards show, produced by the organizers of Cannes. I was struck by many of the entries’ strategic thinking and bold executions. No longer are they playing catch-up.

The laundromat after its transformation

Asia proves newspapers can be innovative too
While the use of technology from augmented reality to mobile is widespread in the region, the Spikes Asia jury also saw some really nice uses of traditional media such as newspapers.

A campaign to promote a tablet computer in China, for example, stood out for the way it tried to expand the product’s market by going after an older, tech-resistant group of government officials and businesspeople. Knowing that this consumer prefers writing by hand over using a PC, the effort touted a handwriting app — by persuading a major business newspaper to print an entire news page in manually handwritten Chinese characters instead of printed type.

Purchase intent increased to 93%, while sales of units improved by 23%.

Experiential media to sell packaged goods

Procter & Gamble’s agencies handling the laundry detergent brand Ariel in the Philippines decked out a chain of Laundromats and dry cleaners as fashion boutiques to promote the idea that “Ariel can make old clothes look like new.”

They produced chic designer window displays with mannequins wearing laundered clothes that looked brand new. Inside the re-furbished laundries contained clothes racks displaying washed outfits and changing rooms to try on freshly cleaned clothes. And consumers could carry away their laundry and dry cleaning in large branded store bags. This campaign cleaned up, helping to increase sales of the brand by 16%.

Higher polish than most direct mail

Higher polish than most direct mail

A 3-D campaign across multiple media
The side streets of Mumbai don’t always suggest high-tech media campaigns around the corner, but India delivered a 3-D media campaign for the new Audi A8L with legs in multiple platforms.

The campaign, meant to showcase the new model’s design and interior, began by sending direct-marketing prospects a pack containing luxury designer 3-D glasses and an accompanying 3-D print brochure. Recipients were invited to view a microsite that played interactive 3-D video.

Other venues for its 3-D creative materials included TV (bundling a 3-D film with new 3-D TV sets being purchased), tablets (as iPad, iPhone and Android apps), Imax film screenings and 3-D displays at car dealerships.

More than 50,000 people joined “Win-an-Audi 3D Starter Kit” contests on Facebook and the campaign achieved half of its annual sales target in the first month of the launch.

Clever social media marketing that grabbed headlines and saved lives
One of my favorite social media campaigns I’ve seen in a while was created in Australia, an effort to reduce speeding for the Transport Accident Commission. The campaign got the residents of a small town named “Speed” to agree to change its name to “Speed Kills” if it got 10,000 “likes” on Facebook. The campaign got that many within a day of launching, becoming a national media event that got $6 million of media exposure and some 10 million hits on Twitter.

But the ability to tell a brand story with fresh thought and inventive executions in media is clearly in abundant supply in the Asia Pacific region. You can view all shortlisted entries at Spikes Asia here.