Matt Williams: women buyers do agree with Cannes Lions judges – some of the time

The Cannes Lions festival really is the most remarkable showpiece. It provides headlines, controversy, jealousy and a healthy bout of scepticism that reached peak levels this year.

Whether the week is a flagbearer for inspiration and creativity or an excuse for a piss-up and an ego-trip I’ll leave up to you. Though when you do, maybe note that Helen Kimber’s ‘a headhunter’s guide to boost your career at the Cannes Lions’ was consistently one of More About Advertising’s most popular posts during the event.

Yet there are always diamonds in the rough. And whilst another one of this site’s columnists Jane Austin superbly summed up the cheek and bluster of the festival talks during her daily diary, she also picked up on one quote that I really hope the industry doesn’t brush aside as ambivalently as they do a Colombe d’Or expense receipt.

It came from the mouth of Richard Brim, Adam&eveDDB CCO and the man with perhaps the scariest job in advertising: the guardian of this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad.

Talking about the pressure behind said ad, Brim spoke not of being worried how the work would be perceived at places like Cannes, but the terror he has when hearing reactions from the public immediately after it airs. “The industry you can disagree with, the public you cannot.”

It’s a comment you wish more during Cannes would take note of. Hell, it’s a comment you wish more creative departments would take note of throughout the whole year.

And it’s why a team from Partners Andrews Aldridge spent this year’s Cannes week at our 60 Great Portland Street offices rather than on the Cote d’Azur. Not in some sort of stroppy protest – many of the positives of Cannes still far outweigh the negatives and we were represented out there by those necessary. But we stayed back because we wanted to take a different look at the Cannes Lions winners. We knew which campaigns resonated with the industry, but how did they resonate with actual customers?

In particular, we looked at how the campaigns resonated with women, asking a range of focus groups to join us in our Experience Lab and discuss the work straight after the winners were announced. The project forms part of our ongoing 21st Century Woman initiative, which kicked off earlier this year to look at how brands are speaking to women in advertising. Because whilst women are responsible for 80 per cent of all purchasing decisions, 76 per cent still feel that brands are not representing them properly.

Luckily for our industry, we weren’t met with a tyrannical slagging off of the best that our creative minds have to offer. But there were some interesting observations that go to show that – just like awards juries – customers do take notice of what’s put in front of them.

Speaking of which..

Here’s a debate that’ll no doubt run and run. In an industry’s quest to ‘do something good’, are some brands getting involved when they have no right to? The Audi ‘Daughter’ Super Bowl spot was tipped to do well at Cannes yet didn’t get beyond the shortlist stage for a Glass Lion, and this work was similarly dismissed by our panel: “I don’t want them telling me what to think – they’re a German car brand,” said one. “It’s a good message, but the way they’ve glossed it up so blatantly sell cars makes me a bit uncomfortable,” added another.

The cynicism didn’t end there. Although the likes of ‘Fearless Girl’ and ‘We are the Superhumans’ were highlighted by both Cannes judges and our research panel for making great strides in breaking down barriers and empowering people in positive ways, the Gold Glass Lion winning Tecate campaign completely split the two.

Our research panel reserved their greatest vitriol for this work: “It’s shameful in how it’s exploiting a very big issue – trying to take loads of serious issues and doing it to ultimately sell beer.” “It’s twisted. Ultimately what they’re saying is good but should they be making it? Whoever you are, I don’t think you should ever use domestic violence to advertise a product.”

Taking small steps..

There’s a greater story behind the Tecate campaign, but it still raises an interesting point about where the line is drawn on issues like these, as well as how you go about conveying these messages.

And it does show that the public genuinely do take notice when brands make an effort to subvert stereotypes or challenge perceptions. The Titanium Grand Prix winning Kenzo campaign was applauded for its lead character refusing to conform. “She’s letting out her frustrations..she’s not being moulded by anyone’s not the horrible clichés you expect from women in perfume ads.”

Addict Aide’s brilliant ‘Like My Addiction’ work was also commended for its realistic representation of life on social media: “I like the subtlety of it all – I’m the type of person this campaign is clearly targeting and it really feels like me or one of my friends could know this person.”

Finally, it was startling how quickly after showing the ad that John Lewis’ ‘Buster the Boxer’ was applauded by our black panel members for featuring a black family – “as soon as I saw it I thought ‘that’s different’ and in a good way. It’s a small thing but it was nice for it not be a stereotypical white family.” Another person added: “It felt like you know those people. They could be your next door neighbours.”

And if all those Gold Lions haven’t yet helped Brim feel good about last year’s Buster spot, then here’s a plaudit he may really like. When asked to name their favourite campaign of the dozens we’d shown them, our panel chose the John Lewis spot. Now there’s a Grand Prix definitely worth winning.

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