Cannes: winner takes it all. So what?

24 Jun 2013  |  Dominic Mills 
Dominic Mills new

'Dumb Ways to Die' might have won five Grand Prix prizes at Cannes, but it's a joke, argues Dominic Mills. A nice piece of work, of course - but public safety ads are a lot easier to do than solving the major marketing challenges for the serious clients who look to Cannes for the inspiration to really shift attitudes and products.

The tea-leaf diviners had it right: the real winner at last week's Cannes was McCann Melbourne's Dumb Ways to Die public safety campaign for the local metro operator.

And big it was too, winning an unprecedented five Grand Prix prizes across the film/TV, PR, radio, direct and integrated categories (mind you, if it had prizes in film/TV, PR, direct and radio then it was pretty damn integrated).

Now don't get me wrong, it's an utterly charming piece of work. But as the big winner at Cannes? It's a joke.

Let me explain: Cannes winners are supposed to represent the zenith of advertising creativity, a cross if you like between the Oscars and the Turner Prize, where industry experts reward original thinking and brilliant execution that delivers a compelling message - and shifts attitude or product.

Delegates are meant to take themselves home inspired by what they've seen and produce more cutting-edge, market-leading, genre-defying ideas and category-redefining work. Clients are meant to say: "Give me something as challenging as the Cannes winner."

And what do we have? We have a lovely piece of animation set to a whimsical piece of nu-folk (by Tangerine Kitty, actually the nom de plume for McCann's creative director and a couple of mates).

Yes, it's about a serious issue (public safety), but as agency folk know, that sort of stuff (like charity ads) is a lot easier to do than solving proper marketing challenges for proper, big-money, serious-as-hell clients.

And that's the problem when an awards scheme hands out the gold to something like this. It doesn't help the big advertisers take it seriously.

Imagine this scenario: you're the marketing director of a big advertiser, say, Coca-Cola, Unilever or HSBC. You've spent the week at Cannes soaking up oodles of creativity (and one or two other things besides). On your return, you must report your findings to the CFO and the board (i.e. the ones with the keys to the marketing piggy-bank).

You take them through the trends, and then you play the Grand Prix winners. "Hmmm," they go, "so Dumb Ways to Die represents all that's best in advertising and creativity?"

"Well...yessss...sort of...," you go - fearful of the direction the conversation is going.

"So, tell us, what's so great, so original, so ground-breaking about Dumb Ways to Die?"

You go: "Er..."

Which is why Dumb Ways to Die is a joke winner. Which is also why the advertising industry sometimes struggles to be taken seriously.

Get Big Data right and (maybe) you can see the wood and the trees

For some time, I have felt lonely. Lonely, that is, because I thought I was one of the few people struggling to get my head around Big Data, and feeling emotionally mixed up about it: on one part seduced by its possibilities; on another utterly confused by the terminology and its ubiquity, and on a third repelled by the hype and over-claim.

But no more. Judging by the near-as-dammit sell-out crowd at the launch last week of an IPA report, titled Audience Research meets Big Data, I am not alone. Yes, there are others looking for guidance too.

In the capable and soothing hands of fellow Mediatel Newsline columnist and market/media researcher Richard Marks, we were taken through a healthy and balanced corrective - hype dismissed and potential explored.

The potential is clear. Big Data, or as Marks prefers to call it, Deep Data, is granular, cheap, fast, near-instant, and it has the four Vs: volume, variety, velocity and veracity. In addition, it gets into the long tail of media consumption standard industry surveys don't.

But, Marks cautions, big isn't necessarily beautiful if the data isn't representative and drawn from an imbalanced or self-selecting sample.

Nor does it necessarily contain demographic information; measure multiple aspects of a consumer's behaviour; allow researchers to measure the individual's behaviour over a period of time; or, since it measures outcome, catch attitudinal shifts. Oh, and it measures devices, not people.

These seem to me like useful caveats to bear in mind - and you can read his 10-point checklist of proper questions to ask here for anyone embarking on a Big Data project.

As he rightfully said, "If Big Data is oil, it still needs refining. You wouldn't run your car on crude."

Adding my own metaphor, it seems to me that Big Data allows us to see the individual trees in the wood. But, as Marks pointed out, seeing the trees on their own only gets you so far, and often you really want to see the wood too. Adding other, more traditional data sets, allows you to see both.

Aldi: brand and advertising in harmony

It's often said that nothing kills off a bad product or service faster than great advertising. Great ads drive an immediate spike in interest or purchase, only for the excited consumer to feel let down. Thus the bubble is quickly deflated and the product in question quickly disappears from the market.

Nirvana occurs when the two work together, as evidenced by Aldi's capture of Grocer magazine's Grocer of the Year Gold award for 2013 earlier this month.

This is some achievement: not only has Aldi had to overcome the (pejorative) label of upstart discounter - a bit like Iceland, only German - but you could also say that Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Asda have had strong years.

But quietly - and outgunned in media terms by its rivals - Aldi has been running a charming ad campaign, one, moreover, that eschews the price-linked, hard-sell approach you might expect from a pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap retailer for something altogether more subtle (and very British in its quirkiness). This is a hard trick to pull off, especially in 20 to 30 seconds, but you can see how they do it here. Credit to McCann Manchester.

The result is a significant shift in perception (and market share - up 30% in the last 12 months to 3.9%).

Of course, none of this would be possible if the shopper experience hadn't come on in leaps and bounds, evidenced by significant sales increases in categories you wouldn't expect from a discounter such as fresh meat (doubled), fruit and veg (48%) and baked goods (40%).

If this story has a familiar ring to it, cast your mind back to the early 90s, when Tesco, armed with the Dudley Moore campaign (credit for agency Lowe), pulled off a similar trick.

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