Cannes conundrum: dumb ways to categorize awards

McCann Melbourne's Dumb Ways To Die has been the sensation of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity so far, bagging two Grands Prix on Monday and almost certain to win more as the week goes on.

McCann Melbourne's Dumb Ways To Die has been the sensation of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity so far, bagging two Grands Prix on Monday and almost certain to win more as the week goes on.

People across La Croisette find themselves inadvertently humming the annoyingly catchy Dumb Ways To Die jingle as they head to their next meeting or social event. Good news for McCann. Good news for erstwhile IPG PR head honcho Harris Diamond, who made the switch over to advertising late last year.

But the likely domination of numerous categories by the same piece of work highlights a big conundrum for the concept of the Cannes Lions, typifying the remorseless march toward integrated communications.

It is causing PR agencies to continue to ponder on the nature of the work awarded at Cannes and whether they can compete with the high-profile ad firms. And, believe it or not, PR's increased level of success is also causing the normally super confident ad industry to start asking itself why they are losing grip of their traditional hold on PR at Cannes.

As well as soothing the concerns of his fellow communications pros, PR Lions chair of judges David Gallagher admitted he had also been asked to counsel ad agencies who think they have bigger and better ideas but are gradually seeing control of the PR category slip away.

In truth, the Cannes categories are out of date. Splitting work into what have become artificial, narrow, discipline-specific boxes no longer fits with modern-day marketing and the convergent mix of paid, earned, shared, and owned media.

Heineken alone submitted 200 entries to Cannes this year. Unilever's Real Beauty Sketches work for Dove was entered 50 times. Overall, there were 35,000 submissions, many of them duplicates entered into multiple categories.

This is great news for the Cannes Lions organizer's profit margins and the incredible rise in popularity of the event, to which new chunks are added each year. But it mirrors the conundrum of agency network holding company heads such as Martin Sorrell, John Wren, and Michael Roth, who are wondering how they are going to deploy their similarly single discipline-organized agency troops to keep the modern CMO happy.

Cannes has cleverly tapped into the holding company rivalry by awarding the top network based on points awarded for wins and shortlisted entries, incentivizing them to enter in multiple categories as many times as possible.

There is also an incentive for the networks to group their entries around one agency so as not to dilute points that count toward the holding company prize - and, predictably, it is usually the ad firm that leads.

When a PR Gold Lion is at stake this got complicated for the likes of Weber Shandwick with the Oreo Daily Twist campaign for Mondelez International (entered under the aegis of sister ad firm Draftfcb); Edelman with Heineken's The Candidate (entered by Publicis); and The Red Consultancy with Samsung's We Are David Bailey activity (entered by Cheil.)

At the PR judging press conference, Cannes head Philip Thomas explained that it is up to the companies to choose which agencies get credited for the award before they are submitted. The net result is that PR tends to lose out in terms of getting full credit for its work.

That's why many PR folks feel they are still “guests” at Cannes, rather than entitled and deserving. But to take that step from guest to fully fledged club member, PR will have to submit to the fundamentally flawed (dumb?) way the awards are categorized – unless we can use our influencing skills to change the Cannes brief.

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